Democratic Party leaders agreed on Saturday to seat Michigan and Florida delegates with half-votes at this summer’s convention with a compromise that left Barack Obama on the verge of the nomination but riled Hillary Clinton backers who threatened to fight to the August convention.
"Hijacking four delegates is not a good way to start down the path of party unity," said adviser Harold Ickes.
Hillary’s camp maintains she was entitled to four additional Michigan delegates.
The decision by the party’s Rules Committee raised slightly the total delegates Obama needs to clinch the nomination.
Hillary’s advisers conceded privately he will likely hit the magic number after the final primaries are held on Tuesday night, but said the ruling threatened to dash any hopes of a unified party.
"Mrs Clinton has told me to reserve her right to take this to the Credentials Committee" at the convention, said Ickes, who is a member of the Rules Committee that voted on Saturday.
The resolution increased the number of delegates needed to clinch the nomination to 2,118, leaving Obama just 66 delegates away from the majority needed to secure the nomination. Obama’s total increased to 2,052, while Hillary had 1,877.5.
"Our main goal is to get this resolved so we can focus on winning Michigan and Florida," Obama said while campaigning in South Dakota. "There were compromises.... I’m glad the DNC worked it through and I hope we can start focusing on substance as opposed to process."
The deal was reached after committee members deliberated for nine hours, including three where they met privately and argued fiercely over their eventual deal, according to several people inside. They voted in front of a raucous hotel ballroom that frequently interrupted proceedings and reflected deep divisions within the party.
"How can you call yourselves Democrats if you don’t count the vote?" one of the many hecklers in the audience yelled loudly and repeatedly before being escorted out by security. "This is not the Democratic Party!"
A senior adviser of Hillary, speaking on condition of anonymity about internal campaign decisions, said the decision could be used to help her raise campaign donations for a scaled-down campaign that might focus on a signature issue — such as health care reform — rather than a traditional fight for the nomination.
The advisers said no decisions had been made, and it was still possible that Hillary would bow out once Obama goes over the top.
Hillary and her supporters wanted the Michigan and Florida delegations fully restored, according to January primaries that she won. But those contests were not recognised by the party because they were held too early, and both candidates agreed at the time they would not count.
But as Hillary tried to catch up to Obama’s delegate lead, she has argued that the votes of the 2.3 million people who participated in the elections must be recognised.
Obama supporters argued that they did compromise by allowing her to take the majority of delegates in two contests where he didn’t campaign.
The sticking point was Michigan, where Obama’s name was not on the ballot. Hillary’s camp insisted Obama shouldn’t get any pledged delegates in Michigan since he chose not to put his name on the ballot.