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Empty Democratic Wolverine primary upsets voters

By KATHY BARKS HOFFMAN
AP Political Writer

LANSING, Jan. 10, 2008 and prior to the Wolverine primary (AP): For Michigan voters, the state’s early primary is either an exciting contest to pick the candidate who may be the eventual Republican nominee or an unsatisfying choice between Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton and “Uncommitted.”

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Republican leaders are ecstatic, while Democratic leaders are trying to put the best spin on a process that has left many Democratic voters disgruntled, since Barack Obama and John Edwards have pulled their names off the Michigan ballot.

“Democratic voters have been disenfranchised, indeed had their vote rendered meaningless, by not being able to vote for viable Democratic candidates because of Democratic Party rules that evade reality,” Obama supporter and Detroit City Councilwoman Monica Conyers complained.

The Democratic Party also disciplined Florida for moving up its primary date.

Michigan party leaders thought they’d pulled off a coup when they got legislators to agree to set the state’s joint presidential primary—the first since 1992—on Jan. 15, jumping ahead of all other states except Iowa and New Hampshire, which traditionally go first. (Wyoming Republicans held caucuses Jan. 5, but no one—including the candidates—paid much attention.)

Their strategy has boosted Michigan’s importance in the GOP contest, with Michigan native Mitt Romney desperately hoping the state will give him his first win and Arizona Sen. John McCain hoping to cement his front-runner status after a New Hampshire victory. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee sees an opportunity among Michigan social conservatives and Rudy Giuliani hopes to pick up votes from GOP moderates.

Candidate Ron Paul also sees an opportunity for his campaign to pick up steam, especially in light of Democratic primary voter dissatisfaction. Visit: http://www.michigan4ronpaul.com    

Democratic primary is a bust
But the Democratic primary is largely a bust, in part because Edwards and Obama have taken themselves off the Democratic ballot to avoid angering
Iowa and New Hampshire, which were unhappy Michigan moved up its primary. All of the candidates except Dennis Kucinich bowed to demands from the two states not to campaign or run ads in Michigan, so there’s no rallies or town hall meetings for Democrats to attend or even a barrage of TV ads to watch.

The primary is such a low-key event that most of the Democratic candidates plan to attend a Nevada debate on January 15, 2008.

Making the election even less of a factor is the move by the national political parties to take away all of Michigan's 156 delegates to the Democratic National Convention in Denver and half the 60 delegates to the Republican National Convention in Minneapolis-St. Paul.

State party leaders are confident the delegates will be seated and plan to move ahead with their delegate selection process. But for now, Tuesday's election will result in 30 delegates—less than Iowa’s 40—being divided among the GOP candidates and no delegates at all going to the Democratic ones.

Voter Turnout
Despite that, hundreds of thousands of Michigan voters are expected to go to the polls. Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land has not estimated voter turnout, saying this election is unlike any other.

Mark Grebner of Practical Political Consulting in East Lansing expects around 900,000 people will vote in the GOP primary and around 650,000 will vote in the Democratic one. About 350,000 of the total will cast absentee ballots, he estimated.

In the GOP primary in 2000, the last year there was a Republican presidential contest, a record 1.4 million Michigan voters turned out, including some Democrats and independents. About 160,000 Democrats voted in presidential party caucuses in 2004.

Voters will have to ask for a Republican or Democratic ballot, and a record of their names and which ballot they took will go to the state Republican and Democratic parties. No public record will be kept. Voters also will be asked to produce a photo ID, although they can vote without one.

Supporters of Obama and Edwards are urging Democrats who can't vote for their favorites directly to pursue another option: Vote for uncommitted in hopes of getting some of Democratic National Convention delegates for their candidate.

Monica Conyers and her husband, U.S. Rep. John Conyers, are running ads urging an uncommitted vote, and that message is being echoed by at least one union that backs Edwards—United Steelworkers—as well as Detroit residents and others who support Obama.

But a vote for uncommitted won't necessarily mean an uncommitted delegate will vote for either candidate. In fact, the uncommitted delegates could end up eventually going to Hillary Rodham Clinton, the only major candidate on the Democratic ballot here.

There’s speculation that Clinton, who won New Hampshire, could have some of her momentum stolen if a lot of voters choose uncommitted. Clinton supporter and former Michigan Gov. James Blanchard says voters should remember that Obama and Edwards voluntarily took their names off the ballot, and shouldn't be rewarded with uncommitted votes.

Levin urges Democrats to vote Democratic
But U.S. Sen. Carl Levin, a Detroit Democrat who was instrumental in getting Michigan to move up its primary, said Democrats who don't want to vote for Clinton, Dennis Kucinich or Mike Gravel should still go to the polls—and, once there, shouldn’t vote in the GOP primary.

He said it's important for Democrats to cast Democratic ballots because it could help Michigan become a bigger player in the selection of presidential candidates in 2012 and set up a system where Iowa and New Hampshire don't always go first.

“You cannot afford not to vote. That's the bottom line,'' Levin said earlier this week. ``It's a step in the process of breaking the stranglehold of Iowa and New Hampshire.''

But Grebner, also a Democrat, said the Democratic primary amounts to little more than an exercise in frustration.

``I don't see how it could be much worse,'' he said. ``There's no way to unsnarl this.''

Michigan Republican Party spokesman Bill Nowling thinks the Michigan results could decide the eventual Republican nominee. He loves the attention the GOP race is getting, but is disappointed with the Democratic contest.

``It takes what could have been a complete slam-dunk on both ends and just turns it into half a party,'' he said. ``It's not really a fun battle unless the other guys are playing.''

Editor’s Note: Kathy Barks Hoffman heads the Lansing AP bureau and has covered Michigan politics since 1986. Rico de La Prensa contributed to this report. On the Net: Michigan Democratic Party: http://www.michigandems.com, Michigan Republican Party: http://www.migop.org

 

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