WASHINGTON - In a bit of political theater, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and the Florida Democratic Party clamored to restore convention delegates that had been stripped by the national party.
At stake: 185 delegates in a state where Clinton leads almost 2-to-1.
The presidential candidate said Friday - just four days before Florida's primary - that she wants the convention delegates from Florida and Michigan reinstated. The national party eliminated all the delegates from those states - more than 350 in all - because they broke party rules against holding their primaries before Feb. 5. All the major Democratic candidates also made pledges not to campaign in those states before their primaries.
Clinton could claim most of the Michigan delegates because she won that state's primary after the other major candidates pulled their names from the ballot.
"I know other campaigns have tried to downplay the significance of these two states," Clinton told reporters in South Carolina Friday. "I think that is not a good strategy for Democrats or any of us who cares about the outcome of this election."
In an earlier statement, Clinton said, "I believe our nominee will need the enthusiastic support of Democrats in these states to win the general election, and so I will ask my Democratic convention delegates to support seating the delegations from Florida and Michigan," she said.
Clinton, a New York senator, called on the other candidates to join her. Instead, Sen. Barack Obama's campaign manager accused Clinton of pandering.
"No one is more disappointed that Florida Democrats will have no role in selecting delegates for the nomination of the party's standard-bearer than Senator Obama," Obama campaign manager David Plouffe said in a statement.
"Senator Clinton's own campaign has repeatedly said that this is a contest for delegates, and Florida is a contest that offers zero," Plouffe said. "Whether it is Barack Obama's record, her position on Social Security, or even the meaning of the Florida Primary, it seems like Hillary Clinton will do or say anything to win an election."
Many Democratic insiders believe the eventual nominee - whoever it is - will work to reinstate the delegates at the convention to promote party unity going into the general election, despite two overwhelming votes by the party's rules panel to strip them.
Under the rules for the Democratic convention, the candidate with the most delegates at the convention will control who gets seated - if the delegates follow the candidate's wishes.
"I know not all of my delegates will do so and I fully respect that decision," Clinton said in the statement. "But I hope to be president of all 50 states and U.S. territories, and that we have all 50 states represented and counted at the Democratic convention."
Both political parties penalized early voting states in an attempt to gain control over an increasingly chaotic primary calendar, but they did it differently.
The Democrats allowed New Hampshire, Iowa, South Carolina and Nevada to hold early nominating contests, while stripping all the delegates from Michigan and Florida.
The Republicans stripped just half the delegates from five states for holding early contests: New Hampshire, Wyoming, South Carolina, Michigan and Florida. Iowa and Nevada avoided the penalty because those states do not technically award delegates at their caucuses.
The Republicans did not imposed a ban on campaigning in those states, and GOP candidates have been traveling throughout Florida for much of the week.
Some Democrats have complained that their party is neglecting an important state while the Republicans are waging a spirited campaign there.
"The notion that you disenfranchise a large number of people in these two states is a terrible idea," Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., told reporters on a conference call arranged by the Clinton campaign.
Florida Democratic Chairwoman Karen Thurman said in a statement, "We thank Senator Clinton for her support and commitment to the Sunshine State."
She added, "The nation needs Florida, and Florida is ready to deliver."
Florida had a total of 210 delegates, including 185 that would have been at stake in Tuesday's Democratic primary. Michigan had a total of 156 delegates, including 128 that would have been at stake in its Jan. 15 primary.
Clinton would have won most of the Michigan delegates after the other major candidates had their names removed from the ballot. Still, she received only 55 percent of the vote in the Michigan primary, with "uncommitted" garnering about 40 percent.
Most of the Michigan voters who chose uncommitted backed Obama or Edwards, who pulled their names from the ballot to avoid angering Iowa and New Hampshire, which didn't like other states crowding to the front of the election calendar.
Clinton leads Obama in the overall delegate count, 237 to 140, including separately chosen party and elected officials known as superdelegates. A total of 2,025 delegates are needed to secure the Democratic nomination.