Page last updated at 02:51 GMT, Sunday, 1 June 2008 03:51 UK

Equal split masks Obama victory

By Jamie Coomarasamy
BBC News, Washington

Democratic Party member at Washington meeting
Saturday's meeting was frequently heated
There have been quite a few 50-50 nights in the Democratic Party's long Presidential nominating process; nights when the primary contest spoils have been evenly divided.

But what appears to be a split decision over the Florida and Michigan delegates is, in fact, a pretty clear victory for Barack Obama.

His campaign manager, David Plouffe, commented that "we're extremely gratified that the commission agreed on a fair solution that will allow Michigan and Florida to participate in the Convention."

The compromise reached by the Democratic Party's rules and bylaws committee - to seat all delegates from those two at the National Convention in August, but to give them only half a vote each - suits the Obama campaign.

At this stage of the battle, everything is political

It answers the charge that the party has disenfranchised over 2m people, who voted in the two disputed primaries, while recognising that Hillary Clinton's victories in those contests were gained in less than perfect circumstances.

In Michigan, in particular, the committee was more generous to Senator Obama than they might have been; apportioning the delegates 69-59 in Hillary Clinton's favour, as opposed to the 73-55 split, which was the other possibility.

'Lipstick on a pig'

It is hardly surprising, then, that those committee members, who are part of the Clinton campaign, were less than happy with the outcome.

Hillary Clinton campaigning in San Juan, Puerto Rico, 31 May 2008
Hillary Clinton has three primaries left to try to gain ground

Their candidate has had a net gain of 24 delegates, but they had hoped for more. Before the committee's decision, she trailed Barack Obama by around 200 delegates. After it, the gap has not closed by much.

In fact, Mrs Clinton had wanted nothing less than 100% delegate count for both states, plus a decision not to give the votes cast for "uncommitted" in Michigan to Barack Obama.

Senator Obama - together with several other candidates - took his name off that ballot, as a show of support for the early nominating states, whose influence was being challenged by Michigan's decision to hold its ballot in January.

As the result was anounced, one angry Clinton supporter in the audience shouted out that it amounted to putting "lipstick on a pig"; an attempt to dress up an ugly compromise as a harmonious show of party unity.

And despite appeals, throughout the day, for the party to come together, the tense atmosphere in the room - frequently pierced by jeers and cat calls - seemed more revealing of the deep party divisions, which have been exposed by this fierce nomination fight.

Final push

And what of the process itself?

Hands voting at the Democratic Party meeting
The compromise gave Clinton fewer delegates than she'd sought

It was distinctly odd to sit in Salon I of Washington's Marriott Wardman Park Hotel and watch a committee, which included two senior advisors to the Clinton campaign and several public supporters of Barack Obama, trying to reach a supposedly apolitical decision.

At this stage of the battle, everything is political.

And that includes Hillary Clinton's next move.

In a statement, the Clinton campaign has suggested that the fight is not yet over. While it accepts the Florida deal, it "reserves the right" to appeal against the Michigan decision at the party's credentials committee, which meets in July.

If enough of the remaining uncommitted super-delegates - party officials, with a free choice over which candidate to support - publicly endorse Barack Obama over the next few days - either before or after Tuesday's final primaries in South Dakota and Montana - they could negate that challenge and push the Illinois Senator over the finishing line.

The prospect of an intra-party squabble lasting for another two months might convince them to do so.

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