Clinton Campaign Chair Threatened to Strip Michigan of Delegates in 2004

Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., has staked her path to the Democratic nomination on the officially illegitimate contests held in Michigan and Florida somehow being recognized, in opposition to Democratic National Committee rules.

What's so remarkable about this is that two of the Clinton campaign's most important strategists have in the past taken the stand that these states should abide by the DNC's instructions -- even if that meant stripping them of their delegates.

In direct contrast to the positions they hold now.

Senior strategist Harold Ickes as a DNC Rules Committee member in 2007 voted -- along with the other 11 Clinton supporters on the 30-member committee -- to strip Michigan and Florida of their delegates as punishment for disobeying the DNC primary calendar schedule.

Ickes now is a leader of the "count Michigan and Florida" rhetoric coming from the Clinton campaign, despite his previous position.

Now comes this curious find, on Daily Kos.

It turns out that irrepressible Clinton campaign chairman Terry McAuliffe once -- when he was DNC chairman -- threatened to strip Michigan of delegates if that state's Democrats carried out their long-time goal of disobeying the DNC calendar.

In his lively book, "What A Party!: My Life Among Democrats: Presidents, Candidates, Donors, Activists, Alligators and Other Wild Animals," McAuliffe tells the tale. If you're an member, you can read the passage for yourself on pages 324 and 325.

McAuliffe at the time had been pushing for early contests for South Carolina and a Western state with a large Latino population, perhaps Arizona or New Mexico.

"Our plan became very controversial," McAuliffe writes. "Some people thought any change was bad. Others thought we were not shaking things up enough. Leading the charge for more radical alterations in the primary calendar was Michigan Senator Carl Levin, who thought Iowa and New Hampshire should not have exclusive rights on voting first and that it was time for other states to have a turn. He had pushed unsuccessfully for change before the 2000 elections and was back in full force this election cycle. He made it very clear on the telephone that if I allowed Iowa and New Hampshire to go first, then Michigan was going to act on its own and put its primary first."

McAuliffe invited Levin to make his argument before the full DNC meeting on Jan. 19, 2002. Levin did, and his motion was defeated by a unanimous vote.

"After the vote, the issue was settled in my mind -- however, not in Carl's," McAuliffe writes.

On Feb. 1, 2003, Levin, Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., and Dingell's wife Debbie (a DNC member and power broker unto herself) called McAuliffe.

"They told me they were going to hold the Michigan primary before New Hampshire's," McAuliffe writes, "which would have led to complete chaos since New Hampshire has a law stating that it must hold the first primary and the DNC had already voted on this issue and settled it.

"'If you do that, I will take away 50 percent of your delegates,' I told him.

"They thought I was bluffing. But it was my responsibility as chairman to take action for the good of the party, and taking away half their delegates was well within my authority...The whole primary calendar was in danger of spinning out of control. The candidates kept calling me and asking what was happening with the schedule, and I made it clear that I was not going to let Michigan throw the entire process out of whack. Finally I'd had enough and scheduled a meeting in Carl's Senate office for April 2 to settle this once and for all...

"Soon Carl and I were going at it.

"'I'm going outside the primary window,' he told me definitively.

"'If I allow you to do that, the whole system collapses,' I said. 'We will have chaos. I let you make your case to the DNC, and we voted unanimously and you lost.'

"He kept insisting that they were going to move up Michigan on their own, even though if they did that, they would lose half their delegates. By that point Carl and I were leaning toward each other over a table in the middle of the room, shouting and dropping the occasional expletive.

"'You won't deny us seats at the convention,' he said.

"'Carl, take it to the bank,' I said. 'They will not get a credential. The closest they'll get to Boston will be watching it on television. I will not let you break this entire nominating process for one state. The rules are the rules. If you want to call my bluff, Carl, you go ahead and do it.'

"We glared at each other some more, but there was nothing much left to say. I was holding all the cards and Levin knew it."

Clinton herself said, in October 2007, "It's clear, this election they're having is not going to count for anything." She said she was keeping her name on the ballot (unlike her competitors) just so when it came time for the general election she could argue she had not ignored the state.

It wasn't until Clinton lost the Iowa caucuses in January that she acted as if the Florida and Michigan contests had any meaning at all. As Tallahassee political journalist S.V. Dáte recently wrote in Slate, "Last summer and fall, when the DNC made these decisions, she had a lot more clout. She exercised none of it."

As for Ickes and McAuliffe -- they have exercised a great deal of clout. But it has been in the name of preserving order, even if that meant stripping recalcitrant state Democrats of their delegates.

As McAuliffe said then -- "the rules are the rules."

Why? "For the good of the party," he wrote (then).

- jpt

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