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Dean to Florida: No hard feelings
The Democratic chairman downplays the state's loss of national delegates.
By JENNIFER LIBERTO, Times Staff Writer
Published October 10, 2007
TALLAHASSEE - On his first public trip back to the Sunshine State since Florida Democrats got punished for scheduling an early primary, Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean tried to strike a conciliatory note on Tuesday.
He called the recent upheaval that is poised to make the Florida Democratic primary meaningless a "spat between politicians."
"Do I wish this fight weren't happening? Yes," said Dean, who had driven from Jacksonville to Tallahassee for a $100-per-person fundraiser. "At the end of the day, I think Iraq, health care, education and ethics matter far more than a fight between politicians."
The DNC allows only four states - Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire and South Carolina - to schedule primaries or caucuses before Feb. 5.
As Florida Democrats continue to refuse to change or move their Jan. 29 primary set by the Legislature this year, the DNC, following Dean's leadership, has promised to yank the state's 210 delegates from the national convention.
On Tuesday, Michigan became the latest to feel such wrath for moving up its primary, as presidential candidates Barack Obama, John Edwards, Bill Richardson and Joe Biden withdrew from that state's Jan. 15 presidential primary, leaving front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton to sweep the state. Candidates can't withdraw from Florida's primary without taking themselves off the November ballot as well.
While he stressed that the "fight between politicians" would be a distant memory, Dean was unapologetic about Florida's current primary debacle.
"Our argument is that everybody knew what the rules were going in. But one way or another, when the votes really count, Floridians' votes are going to count," said Dean, who stood beside House Minority Leader Dan Gelber in a sign of solidarity.
It can't get more awkward for Florida Democrats.
While Sen. Bill Nelson has sued the DNC and state Senate Minority Leader Steve Geller has said he intends to sue the four primary states, all the leading presidential candidates have so far made good on a pledge to early primary states not to campaign in Florida until after Jan. 29 (although they can still raise money in Florida).
The full effect of what Dean passed off as a "blip" may come to pass later this month. Local Democrats will convene a state convention that lacks a single big-name presidential contender mere days after all the major Republican presidential candidates have descended upon Orlando for a state convention and nationally televised debate.
However, Dean disassociated the DNC from the candidates' pledge to avoid Florida, saying "what the candidates do is their business."
"Floridians, despite the fact that they have strong feelings about this issue, as Dan (Gelber) said, are Americans, too, and they want a Democratic president," said Dean.
Earlier in the day, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a round-table discussion with reporters in Washington that the Democratic National Committee can try to enforce its rules, but the party's authority essentially ends when the convention begins.
"The reality is if you want to know if Florida is going to be seated, ask the Democratic nominee as soon as one emerges," Pelosi said.
"At the end of the day, the nominee will make a decision, essentially about who gets seated," Dean agreed.
Dean stressed that he doesn't think the spat will cost votes in November, stressing that Florida Democrats will focus on national issues.
Strikingly missing was State Party chairwoman Karen Thurman, named as a host of the fundraiser, who backed out because of a last-minute engagement, Dean said.
State party spokesman Mark Bubriski said Thurman never officially confirmed her attendance and she had a conflict.
Staff writer Wes Allison contributed to this report.