By Joseph Williams, Globe Staff
WASHINGTON -- Top advisers to Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton said today they are "quite confident" that a key Democratic committee meeting Saturday will end in their favor -- with a ruling that the disputed delegations from Florida and Michigan will be seated at the party's convention in August.
In a conference call with reporters, Harold Ickes, a top Clinton strategist, said Clinton's campaign attorneys have reviewed the party rules and concluded that the Rules and Bylaws Committee has the power to fully reinstate the delegations from Florida and Michigan, which were voided after both states jumped ahead of others and held early presidential primaries in January.
In a letter to the rules committee, Clinton's general counsel, Lyn Utrecht, says the campaign does not agree with the Florida Democratic Party's challenge, which offers as a compromise the seating of only half the 211 delegates, or with the Michigan Democratic Party's challenge, which calls for crediting Barack Obama with the votes cast for "uncommitted" in dividing up that state's 157 delegates. Obama pulled his name off the ballot in Michigan.
"More than two million voters in Florida and Michigan cast ballots during the Democratic Party’s presidential primaries, but our Party’s current posture is to prohibit those states from sending any delegates to the Democratic National Convention," the Clinton letter argues. "That is an unacceptable outcome. It denies millions of voters who took every possible step to have a say in the election from doing so. It also jeopardizes our ability to reclaim the White House and expand our majority in Congress this November. Democrats in Florida and Michigan must be fully represented in the nomination process, and our leaders in those states must be encouraged to work hard to promote our Party’s interests. One guiding principle alone should govern resolution of these challenges: the preferences expressed by the voters must be honored."
That is at odds, however, with a memorandum from the party's lawyers issued late Tuesday that says their review indicates that the committee has to penalize both states for jumping the gun -- and that sanctions begin at docking each state half of their convention delegates.
"You have to read that memo carefully," Ickes said. "It was an 'If-on-the-one-hand-but-on-the-other-hand' document, and can be read at least two separate ways" on the matter.
"We are confident that the rules and bylaws committee has full latitude to shape the appropriate sanction if they want to," Ickes said. "And they have the full power to seat both delegations with all delegates and with full votes."
Obama's campaign has suggested a 50-50 split of the disputed delegates.
Former Michigan Governor Jim Blanchard and Florida state Senator Arthenia Joyner will represent Clinton before the rules committee, while former Michigan Congressman David Bonior and Florida Congressman Robert Wexler will present Obama's case.
Ickes said it's premature to say whether Clinton would appeal to the party's credentials committee if -- as expected -- Saturday's ruling falls well short of that. If Clinton took her case before that committee, it would all but guarantee a potentially damaging fight during the Democratic National Convention in Denver in late August, a situation the party desperately wants to avoid.
"We think it's not useful to cross streams before we come to them," Ickes said. "We are hopeful and expectant that the committee will do the right thing, and make sure all the votes were counted in the way they were cast. I think it's important for us going into this process to assume the best. We do assume the best."
UPDATE: A group of Clinton loyalists have bought airtime for a TV ad in the Washington area. It shows a series of people giving her talking points about counting the delegates and votes from Florida and Michigan -- or risk damage in November for Democrats.
About Political Intelligence
Glen Johnson is Politics Editor at boston.com and lead blogger for "Political Intelligence." He moved to Massachusetts in the fourth grade, and has covered local, state, and national politics for over 25 years. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.