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Democrats Split Over Primaries in Florida, Michigan

Democratic presidential contenders Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are focused on upcoming caucus and primary contests in Wyoming, Mississippi and Pennsylvania in their close battle for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination. But Democrats remain split over how to resolve a dispute over primaries held in January in two key states, Florida and Michigan. VOA National correspondent Jim Malone reports from Washington.

Florida and Michigan held primaries in January. But because both states moved up the date of their primary in violation of national Democratic Party rules, they were punished and stripped of their delegates to the party's national nominating convention in late August.

More than 2 million Democrats cast ballots in the two primaries, and Democratic Party officials are trying to figure out how both states can have their delegates restored in time for the convention.

Elected officials in both states are urging the national Democratic Party to either let the primary results stand or find a way to hold new elections.

Democrat Bill Nelson represents Florida in the U.S. Senate.

"Of course, and that is why we need to find a solution so that Florida and Michigan can have their votes counted," he said. "Otherwise, we have got a big train wreck that is coming."

Hillary Clinton easily won both primaries in January, even though she and the other Democratic candidates agreed not to campaign in either Florida or Michigan because of the sanctions imposed by the national Democratic Party.

Florida and Michigan decided to move up the dates of their primaries so they could have a bigger impact earlier in the nominating process. But their decision violated national party rules that govern when states can hold primary and caucus elections.

Senator Clinton wants the national party to restore the delegates to both states based on the results of the primaries, which would give her a boost in the delegate count.

"I think it would be a grave disservice to the voters of Florida and Michigan to adopt any process that would disenfranchise anyone," she said. "[A total of] 1.7 million Floridians turned out to vote. They clearly believed that their votes would count, and I think there has to be a way to make them count."

But the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, Howard Dean, says he would oppose any move that would restore the delegates from Florida and Michigan based on the January primary results.

Dean spoke on NBC television.

"You cannot change the rules in the middle of the game," he said. "Florida and Michigan voted for a set of rules, and then decided that unlike the other 48 states, they would do something different. That is not fair and it does not respect either the Clinton campaign or the Obama campaign or the other 48 states."

Obama supporters argue that awarding the delegates based on the earlier primary results would be unfair since all the candidates agreed not to campaign in both states.

Senator Obama has indicated he might be open to redoing the primaries in both states.

"We have played by whatever rules that the Democratic National Committee has put forward, and we will continue to play by those rules, and whatever the rules are, we think we will do well," he said.

State and national Democratic Party officials are talking about the possibility of re-running the primaries in Florida and Michigan, but they disagree over who should provide the millions of dollars that would be required to hold new elections.

The dispute over what to do about Florida and Michigan has crucial implications for both Obama and Clinton.

Obama continues to hold a slight lead among delegates and how this issue is resolved could have a major impact on whether the Democratic Party will be able to reunite after a bruising primary campaign.

John Fortier is a political expert at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington.

"The Obama folks, if they were to win by a narrow margin, the Clinton people would be talking about Florida and Michigan and how unfair it was that their delegates were not counted," he explained. "So, I think anytime you get into a very close race where there are just a few delegates separating the candidates, you are likely to have some hard feelings. The party is certainly hoping that it works itself out."

Experts say the Democrats must find a way to include delegates from Florida and Michigan at their national convention in August or they run the risk of alienating voters in two key battleground states in the general election in November.