LANSING – The battle over what Michigan’s presidential election will look like was still being fought yesterday, even as deadlines loomed for getting absentee ballot applications to those overseas.
The GOP-controlled state Senate declined to take up a bill restoring the names of Democratic candidates John Edwards, Barack Obama, Bill Richardson and Joe Biden to the Democratic ballot.
The lack of action angered some Democrats who wanted to have all eight of their candidates on the ballot and left some Republicans worried that Democrats might skip the Democratic primary to vote in the Republican one.
Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop (R-Rochester) said infighting among Democrats scuttled the vote, but Senate Minority Leader Mark Schauer (D-Battle Creek) called the decision a missed opportunity.
The four Democrats withdrew their names to satisfy Iowa and New Hampshire, which were unhappy Michigan was challenging their leadoff status on the primary calendar.
Unless the measure is taken up again, Michigan voters would see only Hillary Rodham Clinton, Dennis Kucinich, Chris Dodd and Mike Gravel as choices on the Democratic ballot, while all eight Republican candidates would be on the GOP one.
The Democrat-controlled House on Monday night passed the bill to put all eight Democrats on the ballot, but failed to come up with the two-thirds vote needed for it to take effect before the election.
Democratic National Committeewoman Debbie Dingell – who along with Gov. Jennifer Granholm backs Clinton – blamed the Edwards campaign for derailing the vote.
“It’s very clear that the Edwards people have been at the forefront of trying to keep the primary from happening in Michigan,” Dingell said yesterday. “They felt they would have had a better chance at a caucus” because union members who like Edwards would make up a disproportionate share of Democratic caucus voters.
Michigan GOP Chairman Saul Anuzis blamed both the Edwards campaign and Michigan Democratic Chairman Mark Brewer for keeping the names off the ballot.
Both have “been working for months to scuttle Michigan’s presidential primary, working in open opposition to Governor Granholm and the large majority Michigan Democrats who joined Republicans in supporting a Jan. 15 primary,” Anuzis said in a release. “The only thing the Democrats have done is chosen to score political points by disenfranchising their own voters.”
A call seeking comment was left yesterday afternoon with the Edwards campaign. Brewer denies he or the Edwards campaign is trying to scuttle the primary.
“They’ve made a conscious decision to stay off the ballot. And they’re going to have to live with the consequences of that,” he said of the candidates who withdrew.
The Democratic Party’s executive committee yesterday night overwhelmingly approved the Jan. 15 primary. The primary replaces an earlier plan under which the Democrats would have held a Feb. 9 presidential caucus.
Brewer plans to file the primary plan with the Democratic National Committee today and it will be considered Saturday by the DNC Rules Committee. The DNC likely will threaten to strip the party of its 128 national convention delegates for holding an election before Feb. 5, but Brewer thinks the delegates ultimately will be seated. The state party also is asking for a waiver to avoid the penalty.
Brewer ran a Democratic presidential caucus in 2004 that drew more than 160,000 voters, and thinks holding a caucus still could be a viable option, although he’ll have to follow what the executive committee decides. But he noted the executive committee could change its decision anytime before the meeting Saturday with the DNC Rules Committee.
Saturday also is another deadline, since county clerks are supposed to deliver absentee ballots to local clerks by then. Brewer said there are serious constitutional issues with forcing candidates to be on the ballot and wants lawmakers to stop trying to get the names back on so clerks can get the ballots printed.
He has been told the bill is essentially dead, but others say there’s still a chance lawmakers could bring up the measure later this week.
Michigan AFL-CIO President Mark Gaffney, who likes Edwards, is among those who thinks the bill’s not dead.
“I would like to have him back on the ballot,” he said of Edwards. He added that, if the bill passes, the four who took their names off the ballot could tell Iowa and New Hampshire that the matter was out of their hands, possibly calming any voter outrage that could arise when Iowa holds its Jan. 3 caucuses and New Hampshire holds its Jan. 8 primary.
Gaffney said unions hope Republican lawmakers will want to pass the bill putting the missing candidates back on the ballot to keep Democrats from crossing over to vote in the Republican primary.
The unions hope to trade Democratic votes for that bill for Republican votes on measures the unions want, such as one letting public employees form political action committees. But GOP lawmakers at this point don’t look ready to cooperate.