Obama and three other Dems drop out in Michigan

Four of the Democratic presidential contenders withdrew their names from the Michigan primary ballot Wednesday, but Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) is staying on.

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Sens. Barack Obama (Ill.) and Joseph Biden (Del.) were joined by New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson and former Sen. John Edwards (N.C.) in deciding to forgo the contest after party leaders said they would stick to the Jan. 15 primary that the state legislature and Gov. Jennifer Granholm (D) designated.

By moving up its primary, Michigan angered national party leaders who say they will strip the state of its delegates for violating Democratic National Committee (DNC) rules by holding a primary before Feb. 5. The committee imposed the same penalties on Florida after the state party said it would hold its primary on Jan. 29.

Democratic Florida lawmakers, including Sen. Bill Nelson and Rep. Alcee Hastings, are suing the DNC in federal district court. Per DNC rules, only the traditional early-voting states of Iowa and New Hampshire, along with Nevada and South Carolina, are allowed to hold their nominating contests before Feb. 5.

Wednesday was the deadline for candidates to ask for their names to be withdrawn from the ballot in Michigan, but a Clinton campaign official said it was “unnecessary” to do so.

Phil Singer said Clinton has already signed the DNC pledge to refrain from campaigning in states that violated DNC rules about the primary calendar.

The four candidates who withdrew were expected to lose to Clinton in the Michigan primary.

Obama’s campaign said the decision to withdraw was “an extension of the pledge we made, based on the rules that the DNC laid out.” Obama spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the campaign wants state Democrats to stay in bounds.

“We still hope that Michigan Democrats can adopt a process that meets DNC rules and, if so, look forward to fighting for the votes of men and women across the state,” Psaki said in an e-mail.

Biden’s campaign implied in a statement that the state moved its primary ahead in the calendar to serve the interests of native son, Republican candidate and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

“Today’s decision reaffirms our pledge to respect the primary calendar as established by the DNC and makes it clear that we will not play into the politics of money and Republican machinations that only serve to interfere with the primary calendar,” said Luis Navarro, Biden’s campaign manager.

In the release, the Biden campaign referred to the Michigan primary as a “beauty contest,” implying that without delegates to win and without a full slate of candidates on the ballot, the results will be meaningless.

The Democrats’ decision not to compete in the Michigan primary came hours before the Republican field was set to take the stage in Dearborn for a debate on economic issues.

Jason Moon, a spokesman for the state party, said they are “very disappointed” by the candidates’ decisions, calling it “another example of how damaging the monopoly that Iowa and New Hampshire have” on early voting is to other states.

“They basically blackmailed the candidates,” Moon said.

Mark Brewer, chairman of the state Democratic Party, held a conference call with reporters Tuesday morning to criticize the GOP candidates before the debate started.

Brewer was asked about the possibility of candidates withdrawing from the ballot, but he was unaware that at least four of them planned to do so.

Brewer did address the pledge the Democratic candidates signed, blaming it on early-voting states. “This is a product of the Iowa and New Hampshire monopoly,” Brewer said. “They have done this in previous elections with previous candidates where they threaten and intimidate them and extract these kinds of pledges from them.”

Brewer said he is not concerned that Republicans continue to campaign in the state while Democrats abstain.

“I’m not concerned, frankly, that we have these Republicans in this state and the Democrats aren’t here,” Brewer said. “This election’s not going to be about how many candidates visited Michigan in October, November of ’07.”

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