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Primary move upsets DNC

Dean threatens a loss of delegates if the state moves to an early slot.

Published February 9, 2007


TALLAHASSEE - Democratic national chairman Howard Dean is lobbying local party leaders to resist moving up Florida's 2008 presidential primary, but he's not having much success.

Dean is resisting a Republican-led effort in Florida to move the primary from early March to Feb. 5 or one week after New Hampshire's first-in-the-nation primary, whichever is sooner.

Dean, the party leader and 2004 presidential candidate, phoned Miami Beach Rep. Dan Gelber, the House Democratic leader, who backs an earlier primary.

"I didn't want to get in a game of chicken with the national Democratic Party, but candidly, I don't represent Howard Dean," Gelber said. "I represent a lot of people who would like to be in the primary journey as more than just potential contributors."

Several other large states - including California, Illinois, New Jersey and Michigan - also are planning earlier primaries.

Florida's early participation could be costly, however. Gelber said Dean reminded him that state parties face the loss of half of their delegates at the conventions if Florida's primary is held before Feb. 5.

"Dean makes it clear that the DNC is going to enforce its rules. He's not out there threatening. He's just making a statement of fact," said Dean's spokesman, Luis Miranda.

In letters to lawmakers, state Democratic Party chairwoman Karen Thurman also warned of several "nightmare scenarios," such as a Jan. 22 primary that would require early voting to begin one week after the Christmas and New Year's holidays.

As a minority in the Legislature, Democrats have little control over when the primary is held. But if Dean makes the sanctions stick, Florida Democrats could end up being punished for a Republican initiative that is one of House Speaker Marco Rubio's "100 innovative ideas for Florida."

Florida lawmakers are tired of what they see as the state's irrelevance in the primary season, only to be a decisive battleground in November, and the state that they say most fully reflects America's diversity.

Supporters say the change would give Florida a stronger and earlier voice in the primary system while forcing candidates to take stands on issues that matter to Floridians, like a national catastrophe fund to help cover costs of hurricanes and other natural disasters.

"We have a duty to the rest of the country to be in this process from the beginning," said Rep. Keith Fitzgerald, a Sarasota Democrat and political science professor. "I think our voters don't want to be left out."

Lawmakers in both parties showed support for the change with a unanimous vote Thursday in a House committee.

A bill by Rep. David Rivera, R-Miami, sped through the House Ethics & Elections Committee on a 9-0 vote. The bill (HB 537) would move Florida's primary to Feb. 5 or one week after New Hampshire, whichever is first.

That means if another state schedules its primary before Florida's, New Hampshire will hold its primary even earlier - forcing Florida to move up its date.

Already, Nevada's party caucus and South Carolina's primaries are scheduled for January.

"This is kind of a game of chicken," Rivera said. "If South Carolina moves (up), other states have to move."

The Senate version of Rivera's bill has not been debated.

Times political editor Adam C. Smith contributed to this report. Steve Bousquet can be reached at or (850) 224-7263.

[Last modified February 9, 2007, 12:37:54]

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