Five Democratic presidential candidates said Tuesday they would remove their names from primary ballots in Michigan, hoping to deal a blow to those who are pushing to elevate their home state's heft in the election process by front-loading the primary calendar.
Barack Obama and John Edwards, who trail only Hillary Clinton in the polls, as well as Bill Richardson and Dennis Kucinich filed paperwork to officially withdraw from the Jan. 15 contest, and Joe Biden said he would be following suit shortly.
Clinton's campaign said Tuesday she would remain in the Michigan race as did Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd. In the most recent national polls, Clinton is leading her closest opponent — Obama — by 20 points or more, and could be breaking the three-way dead heat in Iowa among her, Obama and Edwards.
The Democratic National Committee has forbidden states from holding primaries before the designated four early voting states: New Hampshire, Iowa, Nevada and South Carolina. Party Chairman Howard Dean has said he would strip states that bucked party rules of their delegates at next summer's convention, meaning they wouldn't have a say in who becomes the party nominee.
Biden's campaign might have leveled the strongest words in its intention to withdraw from the primary, pointing a sharp finger at the Republican Party's lack of responsibility on the calendar creep.
"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, the Delaware senator's campaign manager.
Former North Carolina Sen. Edwards' campaign manager David Bonoir also pointed to respect for the party calendar, but also voiced support for the early state's ability to determine the best candidate.
"Michigan is a great state with some of the finest Democrats in the nation — but it's important we respect the role that the four early states play in the nominating process. In Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada voters can look their candidate in the eye and determine who is best to bring about real change in America," Bonoir said.
"In these early states, issues matter more than money, celebrity and advertisements. Voters want and deserve a candidate who represents real people, not corporate special interests, and this primary process will help ensure that's exactly what the American people get," Bonoir said.
Illinois Sen. Obama spokesman Bill Burton said the move follows party guidelines.
"This is an extension of the pledge we made, based on the rules that the DNC laid out," Burton said. "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."
Clinton's campaign said they wouldn't remove her name from ballots, but didn't plan on campaigning in the key Midwest state.
"We're honoring the pledge and we won't campaign or spend money in states that aren't in compliance with the DNC calendar," said Jay Carson, spokesman for the New York senator. "We don't think it's necessary to remove ourselves from the ballot."
The same is true so far of the remaining Democratic candidates: Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd and former Alaska Sen. Mike Gravel.
The Democratic field decided against campaigning in Michigan once it decided to to move its primary ahead of Feb. 5, a time that is reserved only for the "first four." The early contest in Iowa is scheduled on Jan. 14; Nevada, Jan. 19; New Hampshire, Jan. 22; and South Carolina, Jan. 29.
If the DNC follows through on its promise, Michigan would be stripped of its 156 delegates, and Florida — which has scheduled its primary for Jan. 29 — would lost 210 delegates.
But Sen. Bill Nelson and Rep. Alcee Hastings, both Florida Democrats, are hoping to reverse the DNC's decision and have filed a lawsuit against the party over its policy.
Michigan Democratic Party Chairman Mark Brewer said the situation is "yet another reason why we need to get rid of Iowa and New Hampshire going first."
He also said the state still will hold its joint Democratic-Republican presidential primary on Jan. 15 because it's state law. He declined to speculate about whether Democrats may decide to also hold a presidential caucus on Feb. 9 to officially pick a nominee from the full Democratic field and decide delegates to the Democratic National Convention.
Michigan Republican Party Chairman Saul Anuzis said the decision by the Democrats just opens Michigan to more campaigning by Republicans hoping to win the state and its electoral votes.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.