The public phase of the Democratic presidential race will now pause, briefly, for a back-to-the-future experiment in backroom deal-making.
It's an unusual turn for the self-styled party of the people, which began four decades ago to throw open the doors of its nomination process to rank-and-file voters. But then Democrats have never faced a problem quite like the one that Michigan and Florida present for the race between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.
There've been disputed delegations, and rules challenges, since the post-1968 reforms in the Democratic nominating process. But none combined the combustible elements of large states, a live nomination fight, and the electoral version of instant replay.
That has produced the frenzy of private consultations involving the Clinton and Obama campaigns, their allies in Michigan and Florida, the two state parties and Democratic Party chairman Howard Dean. Its eventual resolution--before next month's Pennsylvania primary, and before the verdict from the uncommitted "super-delegates" --represents the next big variable in a nomination fight that has consistently defied prediction.
Ever since Michigan and Florida accelerated their primaries in defiance of party rule, all parties recognized them as outcasts. The Democratic Party's rules committee stripped them of their delegates, the major candidates declined to campaign there, and in Michigan Barack Obama removed his name from the ballot.