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Politics

Moving primary earlier risks party penalties

By ADAM C. SMITH
Published December 10, 2006


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Florida Democrats have generally embraced the push by state GOP leaders to move Florida's March presidential primary earlier in 2008 to increase the Sunshine State's influence in picking presidential nominees. But Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean recommends caution.

"If they move it into January, their delegates won't count in the Democratic convention, so I wouldn't advise that," Dean said in a Political Connections interview airing at 11 a.m. today on Bay News 9.

Florida would risk losing at least half its 208 delegates if it violated the party primary schedule rules by scheduling a primary before Feb. 5. But Dean noted that any candidate who campaigned in a state violating the schedule rules would forfeit any delegates won.

Republicans controlling the Legislature are in the driver's seat on this, and the DNC potentially could wind up punishing Florida Democrats based on what state GOP leaders decide.

Both parties are trying to limit the number of states rushing to schedule early primaries. As it currently stands, both national parties have approved Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina holding their caucuses or primaries between mid January and Feb. 5, 2008, and any state cutting into that window faces punishment.

Republicans also risk losing half their 114 delegates, but party leaders appear undaunted at this point. State House Speaker Marco Rubio, the main advocate for an early primary, said Florida won't schedule anything before Iowa or New Hampshire, but "after that it's fair game."

"They have the prerogative to yank delegates but they run the risk of offending (one of) the largest and most important states on the electorate map," said Rubio, suggesting delegates have little influence anyway.

Luis Navarro, executive director of the state Democratic Party, said it supports an earlier primary, but not violating the DNC rules: "Certainly, we wouldn't want to time it in a way where the state would be penalized," Navarro said.

Dean's Political Connections interview made national news last week after the Times reported that he said in the interview that the Democratic-controlled Congress should not seat Republican Vern Buchanan in Congressional District 13 without a new election. The DNC tried to clarify that Dean was not trying to tell congressional leaders what to do.

Asked about Florida Sen. Mel Martinez, soon to be his counterpart at the Republican National Committee, Dean described Martinez as "right down the line on Republican doctrine. ... He is probably someone who we're going to have lively debates with over the next couple years because we think the agenda he represents was rejected by American voters."

Democrats hold 61 U.S. House seats that President Bush won in 2004, and Dean acknowledged Democrats will have to work hard to keep their congressional majority in two years.

"I believe the 2008 election gets won in 2007. I've told all these congressfolks, these new folks, to get out there and work their constituency just as hard as they did when they were running for their election: Be everywhere, meet with everybody -I don't care if they're conservative or Republican, Democratic or liberal," Dean said.

The full interview airs at 11 a.m. on Bay News 9, and can be seen later on Ch. 34 (Bay News 9 on demand).

Ex-opponents shake hands, make nice

Former gubernatorial rivals Charlie Crist and Jim Davis attended a gathering of the Florida congressional delegation Friday, the first meeting between the former opponents since the election.

Crist, the state's newly elected governor and featured guest, was greeted with handshakes and pats on the back. Davis was one of 17 Florida House members who attended, along with U.S. Sen. Mel Martinez.

When Davis came in a couple of minutes late, Crist got up from his seat at the head of the table, walked over and shook his hand.

"Jim was a worthy opponent," Crist said. "It was tough and spirited campaign and I appreciate the way you comported yourself throughout it. You are a gentleman and a great public servant."

Davis responded: "I feel the same way, Charlie. I look forward to helping you succeed." His colleagues applauded.

State GOP names join Romney bandwagon

Massachusetts governor and likely '08 presidential candidate Mitt Romney is on a roll, picking up prominent Florida supporters. His Commonwealth PAC today named Lt. Gov. Toni Jennings, former House Speaker Allan Bense, and former state GOP chairman Al Cardenas to its Florida steering committee. Buzz wonders how much longer Jeb Bush is going to insist he's neutral in the race.

Crist's leader posts show area's influence

Lots of Tampa Bay area folks are on Gov.-elect Charlie Crist's latest batch of citizen review team leaders, including Everett Rice, State Attorney Bernie McCabe, Pinellas Sheriff Jim Coats, Pasco Sheriff Bob White, the Yankees' Steve Swindal, Dr. A.K. Desai, Paul Bedinghaus, Catherine Crist Kennedy, St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker and former state Sen. Jim Sebesta.

Adam C. Smith, Anita Kumar and Alex Leary contributed to this week's Buzz. For much more breaking political news check out blogs.tampabay.com/buzz.

[Last modified December 10, 2006, 00:45:20]


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