Officials: Clinton aides threatened lawsuit over Texas caucuses

McClatchy NewspapersFebruary 28, 2008 

— The Texas Democratic Party warned Thursday that election night caucuses scheduled for next Tuesday could be delayed or disrupted after aides to Hillary Clinton threatened to sue over the party's complicated delegate selection process.

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

Spokesmen for both campaigns said there were no plans to sue ahead of the March 4 election.

"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 wrote in the letter, obtained by the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. "Such action could prove to be a tragedy for a reinvigorated Democratic process.''

Democratic sources said both campaigns have made it clear that they might consider legal options over the complicated delegate selection process, which includes both a popular vote and evening caucuses. But the sources made it clear that the Clinton campaign in particular had warned of an impending lawsuit.

"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 officials spoke on condition of anonymity.

Another Democratic official who was privvy to the discussions confirmed that Clinton representatives made 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 asked not to identified by name because he did not have authorization to speak about the matter, said Clinton 's political director, Guy Cecil, had forcefully raised the possibility of a courtroom battle.

But Adrienne Elrod, Clinton's top Texas spokeswoman, said campaign and party officials had merely discussed election night procedures and that the campaign was merely 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 Obama 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. Another 67 delegates — more than in many states — 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. (The remaining 35 are so-called "superdelegates'' free to support whomever they choose).

Clinton campaign aides have argued that caucuses favor Obama, whose campaign organization has turned out overwhelming numbers at caucuses in other states.

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.

"If it is true that litigation is imminent between one or both of your campaigns and the (Democratic Party), such action coule prove to be a tragedy for a reinvigorated democratic process that is involving a record number of participants here in Texas and across the nation,'' Dunn, the state party lawyer, wrote.

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