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Delegate dispute resolved, but the rancor may linger

WASHINGTON - When the showdown meeting of the Rules and Bylaws Committee convened yesterday morning, Democratic Party chairman Howard Dean expressed his hopes for how the day would proceed.

WASHINGTON - When the showdown meeting of the Rules and Bylaws Committee convened yesterday morning, Democratic Party chairman Howard Dean expressed his hopes for how the day would proceed.

"We are strong enough to struggle, and disagree, be angry, disappointed and still come together at the end of the day, and be united," he said.

He got at least part of it right.

Each of the actions and emotions he listed was on display in the daylong session that resolved the long-festering disputes over the Michigan and Florida delegations, at least for now.

And there may be unity, eventually.

Last night, though, the session ended with furious supporters of Hillary Rodham Clinton, who gained less than she wanted yesterday in her delegate fight with Barack Obama, chanting "Den-ver! Den-ver!" - threatening to take their raw displeasure to the convention in late August.

And Harold Ickes, one of Clinton's top strategists and a committee member, was denouncing the committee's Michigan solution for its stunning "gall and chutzpah" in "hijacking" several Clinton delegates. She reserved the right, he said, to appeal the matter to the credentials committee.

How deep the displeasure is among the Clintonites, how long it lasts, and how much it matters, remains to be seen.

It should be noted that all of her supporters on the committee voted for the Florida compromise - "A unanimous vote; it cannot get better than that," said Rep. Robert Wexler (D., Fla.), an Obama supporter - and that some of them reluctantly supported the Michigan deal.

But outside, many of the women who had been chanting were swearing they were finished with the party. Said Bettyjean Kling, 60, of Shippensburg, Pa.: "I'll do everything in my power to keep Obama from becoming president."

Until the superheated final moments, the long-awaited meeting had been a relatively civil affair, the underlying emotions smothered by the arcane nature of the subject matter. The members of the rules committee are the ultimate party insiders, for whom issues of process are all-consuming.

So the Clinton-Obama competition almost disappeared at times, lost in the conversation about the meaning of various clauses in various subsections and such questions as how to balance the rights of voters against those of non-voters.

"Our troubles occur because we are retroactively trying to certify and give out delegates from an event we said wasn't going to count," said party secretary Alice Germond, who will call the roll of the states in Denver, of the Michigan mess. " . . . That is really tough."

Both states, in an effort to increase their political clout, held their primaries in January, in violation of party rules that reserved the first month of the nominating process for four other states. In Michigan, the instigators of the move-up were Democrats; in Florida, Republicans.

As technical as the debate was at times yesterday, moments of real passion did emerge, previewing the finale.

Such as when unpledged committee member Donna Brazile wondered aloud how former Michigan Gov. Jim Blanchard, speaking on Clinton's behalf, could so casually advocate there be no penalty at all for his state's violation of the party regulations.

"My mama always taught me to play by the rules," Brazile said. "When you try to change the rules in the middle of the game, the end of the game, that is referred to as cheating."

Or when Ickes denounced the Michigan proposal, a version of which ultimately was adopted, saying that the principle of "fair reflection" of primary results was as sacred to the party as the First Amendment is to the country.

Or when Allan Katz, an Obama supporter from Florida, derided all those in the Clinton camp who compared his state's delegate predicament to the recount mess in 2000, saying sternly, "That election was stolen."

Early in the long day, about 500 supporters of Clinton, many of them from Florida, demonstrated along the street outside the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel where the meeting took place. The Obama campaign had discouraged its supporters from doing the same.

The demonstrators chanted "Count Every Vote!" and carried signs bearing such messages as "Real Democrats Count Votes," "No Nomination Without Representation," and "50 States Not 48."

"I feel as if we're children who've been put in the corner," said Nancy Hoppe, 76, who has already been slated as a Clinton delegate in Florida. "It's time to let us out. We've been punished long enough. Even though we didn't get to see the candidates in person, we watched the debates, we followed the news. We knew what we were doing."

Asked how she would feel if she wound up having half a vote at the national convention, she responded with a question of her own: "Do I bring half a suitcase, half a wardrobe, half of me?"

Thanks to last night's decision of the rules committee, she'll get the chance to figure all that out, as will all the other delegates from Michigan and Florida.