Florida Democrats Stick With Jan. 29 Vote
There was little hope of a truce before, but now it is official: Florida Democrats are at war with their national party.
Karen Thurman, a former member of Congress who is the state party chair, made it plain Sunday that she will not be bullied into holding Florida's presidential primary after Feb. 4. Instead, she vowed to hold the primary as scheduled on Jan. 29 and launched a glitzy Web site to explain her reasons.
"There will be no other primary. Florida Democrats absolutely must vote on January 29th," she wrote on the Web site. "The nation will be paying attention, and Florida Democrats will have a major impact in determining who the next President of the United States of America will be."
Representatives of the Democratic National Committee did not return calls Sunday. But the national leadership has made it plain that they intend to punish any state, and Florida in particular, for thumbing its nose at their rules. Florida's penalty, leaders decided last month, will be the loss of all the state's delegates to the 2008 national convention.
The result is a presidential mess for Democratic candidates, who are caught in the middle of a procedural dispute that threatens to weaken the party's chances of capturing a pivotal state in 2008.
Party chairs in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina -- the states given an exception to vote before Feb. 5 -- have written the presidential candidates, urging them not to campaign in states that defy the party rules.
Strategists for Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, John Edwards and the other Democratic hopefuls will now be forced to plot a path to the nomination without Florida's delegates. And they must figure a way to court the state's donors and general election voters without angering the early-state leaders.
Republicans, meanwhile, have no such issue -- the Republican National Committee is likely to penalize Florida for its early primary by chopping its convention delegation in half, but the GOP candidates have shrugged off the penalty and are campaigning hard in the state.
Why are Thurman and the state's other Democratic leaders so insistent on their primary date? They want to make sure the Democratic nomination is not all but decided by the time the Sunshine State votes next year.
"It means the working men and women who want to vote early will have the opportunity to vote early," Thurman said. "It means that those people who want to go to the polls on January 29th will be able to vote. That's what this United States is all about."
If she's right, the news media will treat the Jan. 29 vote as an important milestone, despite the lack of delegates -- bringing relevance to the Florida primary's outcome. If that happens, it would likely force national party officials to completely rewrite its primary system for 2012.
If Thurman is wrong, though, the state could find itself essentially without a voice in the nominating process. It's a high-stakes gamble that has the side effect of looking like a nasty family fight.
-- Michael D. Shear
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