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2736Texas Democratic Party braces for Clinton lawsuit

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  • Greg Cannon
    Feb 29, 2008
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      http://www.star-telegram.com/news/story/502960.html

      Posted on Fri, Feb. 29, 2008
      State's Democratic Party braces for lawsuit
      By JAY ROOTStar-Telegram Staff Writer

      AUSTIN -- The Texas Democratic Party is warning that
      its primary night caucuses could be delayed or
      disrupted after aides to White House hopeful Hillary
      Clinton raised the specter of an "imminent" lawsuit
      over its complicated delegate selection process,
      officials said Thursday night.

      In a letter sent late Thursday to both the Clinton and
      Barack Obama campaigns, Texas Democratic Party
      attorney Chad Dunn warned that a lawsuit could ruin
      the Democrats' effort to re-energize voters just as
      they are turning out in record numbers.

      Spokesmen from both campaigns maintained that there
      were no plans to sue before the primary on Tuesday.

      "It has been brought to my attention that one or both
      of your campaigns may already be planning or intending
      to pursue litigation against the Texas Democratic
      Party," Dunn said in the letter, obtained by the
      Star-Telegram. "Such action could prove to be a
      tragedy for a reinvigorated Democratic process."

      Democratic Party sources who asked not to be
      identified because of the potential for litigation
      said that representatives from both campaigns had made
      it clear they are keeping all their options open but
      that the Clinton campaign in particular had warned of
      an impending lawsuit.

      'Imminent threat'

      "Both campaigns have made it clear that they would go
      there if they had to, but I think the imminent threat
      is coming from one campaign," said one top Democratic
      official, referring to the Clinton campaign. The
      official spoke on condition of anonymity.

      Another Democratic source who was privy to the often
      intense discussions confirmed that representatives of
      the New York senator's campaign had issued veiled
      threats in a telephone call this week.

      "Officials from Sen. Clinton's campaign at several
      times throughout the call raised the specter of
      'challenging the process,'" the official said. "The
      call consisted of representatives from both campaigns
      and the Democratic Party."

      The source, who was not authorized to speak about the
      matter on the record, said Clinton's political
      director, Guy Cecil, had pointedly raised the
      possibility of a courtroom battle.

      Seeking agreement

      But Adrienne Elrod, Clinton's top Texas spokeswoman,
      said that campaign and party officials had merely
      discussed primary night procedures and that the
      campaign was seeking a written agreement in advance.
      She could not elaborate on the details of the
      agreement the Clinton campaign is seeking. "It is our
      campaign's standard operating procedure that we need
      to see what we are agreeing to in writing before we
      agree to it," Elrod said. "No legal action is being
      taken. We have no reason to take any legal action."

      Obama spokesman Josh Earnest said the campaign had no
      plans to sue.

      "We're confident that by working closely with the
      Texas Democratic Party and the Clinton campaign we'll
      have a caucus that Texans can be proud of -- because
      every eligible voter will be allowed to participate
      and have their vote counted in a timely manner,"
      Earnest said.

      The letter to the two campaigns did not specify what
      procedures or rules might trigger a lawsuit. But one
      party official said the campaigns were most concerned
      about the caucus process, or, as the party refers to
      it, the "precinct conventions." Texas has 228
      delegates, the biggest single cache remaining.

      But only 126 delegates are doled out based on the
      selection voters make at the ballot box. Sixty-seven
      delegates -- more than many states' entire share --
      are to be apportioned based on the number of people
      who participate in the caucuses that begin in over
      8,000 precincts once the polls close at 7 p.m.
      Tuesday.

      The remaining 35 are so-called superdelegates,
      high-ranking party officials free to support whomever
      they choose and can switch votes when they wish.

      Every delegate counts

      The intense competition between Obama and Clinton has
      made every delegate a precious commodity. In past
      years, the caucuses generated little attention or
      interest. Now, questions are being raised about
      procedures, whether there's enough space to
      accommodate participants and how the results will be
      recorded and reported. Democrats have described the
      enthusiasm in Texas, as evidenced by the record
      turnout among early voters in the most populous
      counties, as a sign that the party is undergoing a
      revival after years of decline under virtually
      unchallenged Republican rule.

      Dunn, the Democratic Party attorney, said it could all
      be for naught if the Texas nomination battle winds up
      in court.

      We need to see what we are agreeing to in writing
      before we agree to it. No legal action is being taken.
      We have no reason to take any legal action.

      JAY ROOT REPORTS FROM THE STAR- TELEGRAM'S AUSTIN
      BUREAU. 512-476-4294
      jroot@...