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Politics

Florida primary will not count, Dean warns

By ADAM C. SMITH
Published June 13, 2007


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Sure, Florida is America's biggest political swing state. But don't expect the national Democratic Party to back off punishing Sunshine State Democrats for scheduling an early presidential primary.

"Their primary essentially won't count, " Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean said of Florida. "Anybody who campaigns in Florida is ineligible for delegates."

His comments in New Hampshire were his first public response since Florida Democratic leaders decided Sunday to go ahead and set their presidential primary for Jan. 29, the day state lawmakers had chosen.

Because the DNC bars all but a handful of states from scheduling an election earlier than Feb. 5, Florida Democrats until Sunday had seriously considered making Jan. 29 a nonbinding vote and holding their own caucuses later.

Instead, there's a faceoff that has Democratic presidential campaigns uncertain about how to proceed. Some Democrats worry that if their candidates don't campaign hard early on Republicans would have a big leg up toward winning Florida's 27 electoral votes.

"This thing could be a total mess unless we find a way out of this, a compromise, " said Sen. Bill Nelson.

Compromise at this point looks unlikely, though.

The rules, unanimously passed in 2006 by nearly 450 Democratic party activists across the country - including Florida - are clear and leave little or no leeway for Dean to waive them: Any state that violates the schedule set by the DNC loses half its delegates to the national nominating convention and any candidate who campaigns in that state will forfeit all delegates from that state.

By moving to Jan. 29, Dean told a New Hampshire student, Florida Democrats "essentially converted their primary to a straw poll."

Translation: National leaders of the "count every vote" party are refusing to count the votes of Florida, where the term "disenfranchised voters" became a rallying cry in 2000.

The presidential campaigns have tried to stay on the sidelines, but to date only Dennis Kucinich and Hillary Rodham Clinton have been unambiguous in promising that they will campaign aggressively in Florida no matter what.

The DNC's rules committee on Aug. 25 will consider the Florida Democratic Party's plan to hold a Jan. 29 primary. What are the prospects the committee will approve that plan and waive any penalties against the state?

"None, " predicted former state Democratic chairwoman Terrie Brady, a DNC member from Jacksonville.

That means that starting on Aug. 26 any candidate campaigning or raising money in Florida will likely lose a shot at winning any of Florida's 208 delegates.

Ultimately, though, state Democrats hope the eventual Democratic nominee, who controls what happens at the convention, will make sure Florida's delegates count. The nominee can't afford to antagonize key activists in a swing state with 27 electoral votes.

"I'm a candidate that's just about to be nominated, and I'm not going to seat Florida at the Democratic National Convention with a full delegation?" Brady said.

Adam C. Smith can be reached at 727893-8241 or asmith@sptimes.com.

Fast Facts:

Primary schedule

The Democratic primary schedule is still evolving but here's the current, tentative schedule.

Jan. 14: Iowa caucuses

Jan. 19: Nevada caucuses

Jan. 22: New Hampshire primary.

Jan. 29: Florida primary, South Carolina primary.

Michigan: The party chairman, Mark Brewer, reiterated Tuesday that Michigan Democrats plan to move their presidential caucuses to an earlier date if Florida sticks with Jan. 29. The Michigan caucuses currently are scheduled for Feb. 9, and a decision on a new date would not be made until the fall, he said.

[Last modified June 13, 2007, 00:28:48]


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