WASHINGTON Harold Ickes, a top adviser to Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's campaign who voted for Democratic Party rules that stripped Michigan and Florida of their delegates, now is arguing against the very penalty he helped pass.
In a conference call Saturday, the longtime Democratic Party member contended the DNC should reconsider its tough sanctions on the two states, which held early contests in violation of party rules. He said millions of voters in Michigan and Florida would be otherwise disenfranchised before acknowledging moments later that he had favored the sanctions.
Campaigning in Wisconsin after Ickes' remarks, Clinton echoed his contention that a suitable arrangement could be worked out to seat the Michigan and Florida delegations.
"The rules provide for a vote at the convention to seat contested delegations," she said. "This goes back to the 1940s in my memory. There is nothing unusual about this. My husband didn't wrap up the nomination until June. Usually it takes awhile to sort all this out. That's why there are rules. If there are contested delegations, the convention votes on it."
Ickes explained that his different position essentially is due to the different hats he wears as both a DNC member and a Clinton adviser in charge of delegate counting. Clinton won the primary vote in Michigan and Florida, and now she wants those votes to count.
"There's been no change," Ickes said. "I was not acting as an agent of Mrs. Clinton. We had promulgated rules and those rules said the timing provision ... provides for certain sanctions, automatic sanctions as a matter of fact, if a state such as Michigan or Florida violates those timing provisions."
"With respect to the stripping, I voted as a member of the Democratic National Committee. Those were our rules and I felt I had an obligation to enforce them," he said.
Clinton won after all the Democratic candidates agreed not to campaign in either state because they violated the party rules. Clinton, who flew into Florida on primary eve but did not hold a public rally, tried to argue that Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois had violated the pledge by airing a national ad campaign that also showed on Florida television stations.
Ickes' dual positions on the issue illustrate some of the internal division within the party as Clinton and Obama run neck-in-neck in the Democratic presidential race.
Some Democratic leaders have expressed concern that the tight contest might ultimately hinge on the positions of some 700 party insiders known as superdelegates. Civil rights leaders also have been somewhat split on whether failing to seat the Florida and Michigan delegates would unfairly disenfranchise minority voters.
As of Saturday, the delegate count stood at 1,280 for Obama and 1,218 for Clinton. If the DNC were to award Michigan and Florida's 313 delegates based on the vote in their primaries, she would be ahead because she won both states.
On Saturday, Ickes reiterated the campaign's view that new "redo" votes in Florida and Michigan aren't necessary. He said many superdelegates are elected lawmakers or governors who are supposed to exercise their independent judgment to vote contrary to public opinion if they believe another candidate has a better chance of winning.
In response, the Obama campaign said Ickes' viewpoint runs counter to democratic principles.
"The Clinton campaign just said they have two options for trying to win the nomination attempt to have superdelegates overturn the will of the Democratic voters or change the rules they agreed to at the 11th hour in order to seat nonexistent delegates from Florida and Michigan," said Obama campaign manager David Plouffe. "The Clinton campaign should focus on winning pledged delegates as a result of elections, not these say-or-do-anything-to-win tactics that could undermine Democrats' ability to win the general election."
Ickes, however, expressed confidence that DNC Chairman Howard Dean will work out a solution to Michigan and Florida's stripped delegates and that there will be no delegate fight at the Democratic National Convention in August, predicting that Clinton will have the nomination locked up shortly after primaries and caucuses end on June 7.