WASHINGTON (AFP) — Struggling to unpick Barack Obama's lock on the White House nomination, Hillary Clinton is brooking no compromise ahead of a Democratic Party meeting about the outlaw states of Florida and Michigan.
Protestors are set to descend en masse on Saturday's meeting here of the party's rules committee, which has taken on added urgency for the former first lady as the nominating race reaches a climax.
Invoking Robert Mugabe's bloodied Zimbabwe, Clinton argues that democracy itself is at stake in the argument about whether Florida and Michigan should be fully represented at the Democratic convention in August.
"There's one number that we're going to be satisfied with, and that's 2.3 million people having their votes counted," said Tina Flournoy, a pro-Clinton member of the national party's rules and bylaws committee.
What began as an intra-party spat over the timing of the two states' primaries has taken on outsized importance, now that Clinton must squeeze out every last vote and delegate to wrest the Democratic nomination from Obama.
In the process, the New York senator has reversed her own support of the party's punishment of state leaders in Florida and Michigan for holding their contests in January in violation of the primary calendar.
Now, her campaign argues, the party risks electoral suicide in November if it ignores the will of the 1.7 million voters who took part in Florida's primary and the 600,000 who turned out in Michigan.
"Our expectation and our belief is the DNC (Democratic National Committee) will vote on Saturday to seat Florida and Michigan at 100 percent," Clinton spokesman Howard Wolfson said.
Clinton aides were coy about whether they might fight all the way to the convention in Denver if she does not win a favorable outcome this weekend.
However, DNC staff lawyers say it is not an option to restore full voting rights to all 210 delegates originally apportioned to Florida, and the 156 given to Michigan.
In a memo to the committee's 30 members recapping the party's rules, the lawyers said that at most, the DNC could reinstate half the delegates, or give half a vote each to all of them.
Either way, there is no chance of Saturday producing a dramatic boost to Clinton's delegate count as Obama homes in on the right to take on Republican John McCain in the presidential election.
But the Clinton campaign does need Florida and Michigan to count to lend credence to her argument that she leads the national popular vote, and is more electable against McCain in pivotal swing states.
Clinton took 50 percent of the vote in Florida, where all the Democratic candidates agreed not to campaign. In Michigan, where Obama took his name off the ballot, she took 55 percent to 40 percent for "uncommitted."
According to the Obama campaign, heading into Sunday's primary in Puerto Rico and the two final battles on Tuesday in Montana and South Dakota, he needs just 45 more delegates to reach the current winning line of 2,026.
While that number could go up depending on a DNC fix this weekend, both candidates would still need the support of enough Democratic grandees called "superdelegates" to go over the top. But Obama would need far fewer.
The Illinois senator, anxious to take on McCain, is offering a compromise deal that would give Clinton a slight net gain in delegates from Florida and Michigan, without much changing the overall tally.
"Any compromise beyond a 50-50 split will cost Senator Obama delegates," former DNC chairman David Wilhelm said.
"But the bottom line is that he is acting this weekend in the interest of party unity. And we're going to need that to win in November."
The Obama campaign urged his supporters to stay away from Saturday's meeting. "We're not going to turn this thing into a circus," Wilhelm said.
But one group called Florida Demands Representation said it was expecting more than 2,000 demonstrators at the meeting.
The group, highlighting the state's recount debacle in the 2000 election, has been sending Florida oranges to DNC members inscribed with the message "Count our Vote."
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