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Politics

State Dems lead revolt

A free-for-all looms after party leaders go for a Jan. 29 primary, rejecting DNC rules.

By ADAM C. SMITH
Published June 11, 2007


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HALLANDALE BEACH - Setting the stage for a showdown with the Democratic National Committee, state Democratic Party leaders decided Sunday that Florida will hold one of the first presidential primaries in the country next year.

The Jan. 29 primary date set by state lawmakers this year violates the DNC's rules, which bar all but a few states from holding primaries before Feb. 5. It means Democrats in America's biggest swing state stand to lose delegates to the national convention, and presidential candidates who campaign in Florida will win no delegates toward the nomination under DNC rules.

Until Sunday, state Democratic leaders had been considering trying to comply with the DNC rules by making the state-run Jan. 29 election officially meaningless, and instead holding caucuses or a vote-by-mail election after Feb. 5.

In the end, the idea of Democrats in the state of hanging chads and Katherine Harris deciding not to count votes in a statewide election was too much for party leaders.

However, the activists who gathered in Broward County on Sunday are still considering holding a nonbinding presidential "straw poll" - basically a popularity contest - at their party convention in October.

"Our main goal was we were not going to disenfranchise our voters here in Florida, " said state Democratic chairwoman Karen Thurman.

Nearly 100 party activists unanimously voted to hold the primary on Jan. 29, setting the stage for sticky negotiations with the national party. DNC chairman Howard Dean appears to have little leeway to waive the rules, and even Florida Democrats doubt party activists in other states will want to make a special exception for Florida to violate a primary schedule carefully crafted in 2006.

"I don't think this is going to be resolved fully until August, maybe July. But once a presidential candidate receives a majority of the delegates, I believe Florida is home free, " said Jon Ausman, a DNC member from Tallahassee, noting that the ultimate nominee won't want to antagonize activists in a state with 27 electoral votes.

The party's schedule, closely mirrored by the Republican schedule, was designed to encourage geographic and demographic diversity while respecting the history of key early voting states: Iowa would hold caucuses first, followed by Nevada caucuses, followed by primaries in New Hampshire and then South Carolina.

But now the primary schedule is turning into a free-for-all.

After Florida lawmakers this year moved the primary from March to January - ahead of South Carolina - the Palmetto State is seriously looking at moving its primaries before Florida, which so far is the only state to violate the rules. Michigan party officials also are looking at scheduling a January election, with Iowa and New Hampshire talking about moving still earlier.

The early primary has been less problematic for Florida Republicans. While they will lose delegates under national party rules, the penalties are less severe than with the Democrats.

Meanwhile, Florida party officials are talking about holding a nonbinding presidential straw vote in October, a symbolic exercise that could cost presidential campaigns hundreds of thousands of dollars if they aggressively try to organize a strong showing among Democratic activists.

They voted to hold off on a decision until later this summer, but Monroe County state committee member Pam Martin summed up the goal for holding one: "I want to be wooed."

Adam C. Smith can be reached at 727 893-8241 or asmith@sptimes.com

[Last modified June 10, 2007, 23:37:28]


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