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Dems, seeking unity, give Florida, Michigan delegates full votes

DENVER — Delegates from Barack Obama's home state of Illinois are booked at a gleaming downtown hotel with panoramic views of the Rocky Mountains and the city skyline.

The vista for most of the Florida delegates? Glimpses of Wal-Mart, Home Depot and Highway 70.

But a room without a view appeared to be the only lingering sign of the dispute that nearly cost delegates from Florida and Michigan a trip to the Democratic national convention.

On Sunday, the national party's rules committee agreed to restore full voting privileges to delegates from Michigan and Florida — ending a rancorous debate over when states can schedule their primaries.

The dispute lasted for a year — the two parties were initially told last August that they couldn't send delegates to the convention at all because they held their primaries before Feb. 5 — and became a major point of contention between Hillary Clinton and Barrack Obama in their bitter primary contest.

But that rancor seemed largely to have disappeared on Sunday, eased, no doubt, by the fact that the decision would have no effect on who becomes the Democratic presidential nominee — Obama has more than enough delegates to win, however Florida and Michigan vote.

But resolving the dispute was important to a party desperately seeking unity after one of the most contentious primary campaigns in decades.

"Full inclusion of all our state delegations is of paramount importance,'' said Susan Carroll, a conventions committee member from Arkansas.

Unlike the last DNC rules meeting in May, where Clinton

supporters packed the room and heckled party leaders when they agreed the delegates could have a half-vote each, Sunday's meeting in a cavernous hall at the Colorado Convention Center was a staid affair.

"We live through storms in Florida, and we know after the storm the sun always comes out,'' said Scott Maddox, a former Florida Democratic Party chairman and member of the party committee that voted unanimously in favor of full voting rights. "Thank you for bringing the sunshine back.''

Obama also seemed in the mood to do some additional stroking to Florida, which is a key battleground state. Its delegation may not have great hotel accommodations, but they'll be seated right up front during the convention, next to Illinois.

In another stroke to Florida's ego, Obama's campaign co-chairman in Florida, U.S. Rep. Robert Wexler of Boca Raton, was named a vice-chairman of the convention last week. He and U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor of Tampa are scheduled to address the convention Wednesday.

Because Florida delegates didn't even know if they would be welcome in Denver

until late May, they found themselves scattered among three hotels, several miles away

from most convention activities. Most Florida Democrats are staying at The Red Lion, a

beige, five-story hotel, 7.9 miles by shuttle bus or taxi to the Pepsi Center.

Michigan didn't fare any better: They're being housed in Broomfield, more than 17 miles away.

The delegate controversy stemmed from frustration among Florida and Michigan lawmakers over the exalted status of small, homogenous states like Iowa and New Hampshire, whose early primaries can set the course for the nomination.

The national party told Florida and Michigan that they had to wait until Feb. 5 to hold their primaries, but the states' legislators scheduled the votes for January.

The result: the national party refused to recognize the primaries' results and most of the candidates refused to campaign in the states, notably Clinton and Obama. Only Clinton's name was on the Michigan ballot.

Michigan party leaders, however, suggested Sunday they intend to continue fighting for an earlier primary date. The Democratic party plans to set up a committee this week to make recommendations for reforms by 2010.

"�There's a principle at stake, and we are committed to that principle,'' said Debbie Dingell, a DNC member from Michigan. Added Michigan Sen. Carl Levin, "This shows you can challenge the system and land on your feet.''

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