Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Rodham Clinton, Barack Obama and John Edwards have pledged not to campaign in Michigan or Florida, two states that have bucked their party's nomination schedule.
Their announcements, in statements released Saturday by their campaigns, left no major Democratic candidates campaigning for Michigan's Jan. 15 primary.
Clinton's campaign issued a statement that said she respected the DNC rules. She was the last of the three to announce she would not compete in Michigan, which is holding a primary before Feb. 5 in violation of the Democratic National Committee rules. The pledge was circulated on Friday by officials from the four states approved to vote before that date.
There was a swift response from Michigan Democrats.
"This is another move to try to intimidate us, to try to get us to back down," said Debbie Dingell, one of the state's representatives on the Democratic National Committee and the wife of influential Rep. John Dingell. "The Democratic leadership of this state is united to challenge the system. We're prepared to take this to the floor of the convention in the fight to seat out delegates"
"We expect that all of the Democratic candidates for president will be on the ballot in Michigan on January 15th," Gov. Jennifer Granholm said in a written statement. "We hope that every candidate will campaign here."
Granholm had written on Thursday to candidates in both parties, urging them to campaign in the state, and to decline to sign the pledge sought by the four early states. Referring to the economic trends that have battered Michigan, Granholm wrote, "I hope you will recognize that these issues facing the people of Michigan are far more important than the politics of the parties' respective nominating contests."
The announcements Saturday come a week after the DNC's rules committee voted to strip Florida of all its delegates to next summer's national convention as a penalty for violating the schedule rules. National party officials have clearly signaled that Michigan will face the same penalties for moving to Jan. 15. Republican officials have said the states could lose up to half their delegates to the GOP convention as well.
But state officials in both parties have said they question whether the parties would risk the turmoil of a fight over seating delegates at conventions designed to unify party loyalists for the 2008 campaign. Republican candidates have shown no reluctance to campaign in Michigan, and several GOP campaigns are expected to step up their activity in the state.
Saul Anuzis, chairman of Michigan Republican Party, said the Democratic presidential candidates' decision is good for Republicans.
"I am ecstatic if that's true," he said. "I am doing cartwheels. There is nothing more that Republicans could ask for in Michigan and nationally."
Anuzis said he believes Republicans could exploit a decision by Democrats to bypass Michigan and Florida, two states that could play a vital role in the general election.
In bypassing Michigan, Edwards would turn down a chance to compete in a state where he had hoped to do well. His campaign manager, David Bonior, is a former congressman from Macomb County, with deep ties to the state party and the labor unions who hold great sway in Michigan. Edwards has built strong ties to labor himself, backing union organizing campaigns across the country and crafting an economic policy with strong appeal to unions.
"Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina need to be first because in these states ideas count, not just money," said the Edwards statement. "These are places where voters get to look the candidate in the eye and measure their policies, ideas, and integrity. That's why I am signing this pledge. This tried-and-true nominating system is the only way for voters to judge the field based on the quality of the candidate, not the depth of their war chest."
Obama's statement encouraged the states challenging the calendar rules to change their path.
"To become the Democratic nominee for president, a candidate must secure a majority of delegates to the national convention," Obama campaign manager David Plouffe said in the statement. "Because states that violate DNC rules will not be allowed to contribute to the delegate tally, we urge all states to ensure their compliance with DNC rules so they can participate in our Democratic nominating process."
Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina are the only ones approved under Democratic National Committee rules for contests before Feb. 5. But Michigan, on Jan. 15, and Florida, set for Jan. 29, have challenged those rules, saying the nomination process is too dominated by small states without the racial and economic diversity that represents the nation.
Edwards supporters had opposed Michigan's move to a primary coordinated with Republicans. Edwards' union support would carry greater clout in the party caucuses Michigan Democrats had been scheduled to hold, because the lower turnout in caucuses would place greater emphasis on labor's organizing power. But Michigan labor leaders, including the United Auto Workers union, are believed to have backed the Jan. 15 primary.