In a last ditch stand, Hillary Clinton is trying to turn the seating of the disputed Florida and Michigan delegations into a cause celebre, posing questions of equal justice and voting rights in anticipation of a May 31 meeting of the Democratic Party's Rules and Bylaws Committee.
Her call for the seating of all delegates picked in the two primaries conducted in violation of party rules faces growing opposition from two groups of committee members -- those loyal to Barack Obama, and those loyal to Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean. These two factions appear likely to produce a majority on the Rules Committee, thus spiking Clinton's so-called "nuclear option."
Reliable sources in the Clinton campaign, and others close to Democratic Party leaders, contend that progress is being made toward a compromise that would either seat the full Florida and Michigan delegations, giving each member a half a vote, or cut the size of each delegation in half.
Clinton supporters make up the third and largest block on the Rules committee, but they do not constitute a majority. A Huffington Post analysis of the allegiances of the 28 members of the Rules committee found that 13 have endorsed Clinton, eight are in the Obama camp, and seven have not publicly committed, although a number of them are believed to be in Obama's corner.
Since the Rules Committee last year voted against seating the Michigan and Florida delegations -- each state violated party rules by holding its primary before February 5 -- the Clinton campaign faces the daunting task of holding onto all 13 Clinton supporters, while gaining two votes from the ranks of those loyal to Dean or Obama.
Campaigning in Boca Raton, Florida, on Wednesday, Clinton -- who stands to gain 56 more delegates than Obama if Michigan and Florida are seated as presently constituted, but only 16 to 20 more delegates if the compromise seating plans are agreed to -- made her case in dramatic terms.
"[H]ere in America, unlike in many other nations, we are bound together, not by a single shared religion or cultural heritage, but by a shared set of ideas and ideals, a shared civic faith, that we are entitled to speak and worship freely, that we deserve equal justice under the law, that we have certain core rights that no government can abridge and these rights are rooted in and sustained by the principle that our founders set forth in the Declaration of Independence."
For Clinton, it is crucial to turn the issue of seating the Florida and Michigan delegations into a matter of moral and civic principle if she is to gain traction among the members of the Rules Committee.
"I believe that the decision our party faces is not just about the fate of these votes and the outcome of these primaries. It is about whether we will uphold our most fundamental values as Democrats and Americans," she told Boca Raton voters. "We carry on this cause for a simple reason, because we believe the outcome of our elections should be determined by the will of the people - nothing more, nothing less."
One knowledgeable source directly involved in the negotiations said the most likely first step to be taken by the Rules Committee on May 31 would be "to vote to cut the delegations in half with full votes" for each of the remaining delegates. Florida is then expected to ask the committee to modify its ruling "to allow all the delegates to go with a half vote each."
Harold Ickes, Clinton's chief negotiator on this issue and a member of the Rules Committee, said he is exploring various compromises, but he declined to provide specifics.
Even if the Clinton forces were to succeed in winning approval to seat the full Florida and Michigan delegations, the decision would be subject to review by the convention Credentials Committee, on which Obama supporters will have more members than Clinton, and then again on the convention floor in Denver in late August.