August, 30th 2007

All Florida, all the time: Democrats first

– Liz Mair

The great state of Florida is getting its share of headlines this morning (i.e., whatever isn't being focused on Larry Craig and, from watching Joe Scarborough's morning show, Britney Spears), with drama afoot on both the Democratic and the Republican sides of the political debate.

First up, the Democrats. Last week, after threatening by Howard Dean (including, according to one source of mine, another signature screaming fest), the DNC Rules Committee voted to strip Florida of all of its delegates to the 2008 Convention, because the state decided to hold its primary a little earlier than the lovely DNC folks had wanted. In other words, the DNC gave Florida Democrats the finger and said "we don't give a crap about your right to vote and have a say in anything" because, heaven forbid, Floridian Dems think that maybe their collective voice should count for something close to the collective voice of the comparatively tiny and unpopulated state of New Hampshire.

While the Florida state party has 30 days to change its primary plans (and get its delegates back), Dean and his DNC look like they may finally have done themselves in, in one of our country's biggest states.

This morning, Florida's senior senator, Democrat Bill Nelson, has come out blasting, essentially accusing the Democratic party of disenfranchising voters (usually the thing that the GOP gets tagged with-- the Democrats' bag is usually more seeking to enfranchise people who aren't legally entitled to vote).

And he is not alone. A top Democratic fundraiser is essentially yanking money from the DNC in retribution for the DNC penalizing the state's Democrats, and it looks like others may follow suit. The Florida Democratic Party has a piece up on its website indicating that Dean may be consigned to the wilderness over this one (as well as pieces about "calling the DNC's bluff", goading the DNC to "punish" Florida Dems some more, and suggesting that Florida Democrats engage in a scream of their own: "We are going to not only run our own primary on the date of our state's choosing, but also encourage self-determination among Democrats everywhere! Byaaah!!!"). The Florida Progressive Coalition seems to have construed that first piece as intimating that Sen. Nelson is going to try to get Florida Democrats to leave the national party (oh, how some Republicans wish).

Now, the real issue-- controversy about the Democratic party falling into complete disarray in a state that controls 10% of the votes needed in order to win a presidential election via accruing 270 votes in the electoral college aside-- is whether the DNC's finger to the Florida Democratic Party has any real implications.

On the one hand, I think not. There's no chance that Hillary, Obama or Edwards will be ignoring Florida and playing by Dean's rules. And even if Florida loses its delegates, the result of its primary is still going to be pretty darned persuasive (this is the point that Florida Gov. Charlie Crist made, vis a vis RNC plans to strip Florida of half of its delegates to the GOP convention next year if the primary took place "too early"). Florida is a big state, a diverse state, and the logic goes, any candidate who can win in Florida, can win across the country. Is any candidate going to pass up the opportunity to show he (or she) is that guy (or gal)? Je pense que non.

But here's the question: campaign in Florida though the Democratic frontrunners will, are Florida Democrats going to be so ticked off by their party that they just don't bother voting? A Republican-backed tax plan is going on the ballot the same day, and the state party seems desperate to make sure that the GOP doesn't get it's way on the tax initiative, but the question is, is that going to be persuasive to the average Florida Democrat in getting them out of their house, into their car, and to the polling station? If we were talking about Washington State, where people get excited about ballot initiatives (or at least more so than they seem to in much of the country), I'd say that could get people to the polls on its own. But, my gut tells me, in a presidential year, if people think their primary votes are only going to count in terms of setting expectations-- much as a straw poll vote at a state fair, or even a party organization's convention would, so in either case, not much-- that's not going to be much of a draw for anyone who's not a diehard party activist. And, of course, we know that the diehard party activists in Florida are p*ssed at this stage.

In sum, I do think if the DNC doesn't patch things up with the Florida Democratic Party, a lot of Florida Democrats are going to say "whatever," take a pass, and stay home when primary day rolls around. But is it going to be 90% of the party? No.

Here's another interesting question, though. This piece, from the Bradenton Herald seems to intimate that by giving Florida Democrats the finger, the DNC's action could result in Republicans getting a leg up in the state in the general election, and not just on primary day. Could that actually happen? My gut says "not really." Ultimately, the swing voters who might be inclined to think about voting Republican in a general election are probably not going to be hardened Democrats-- they're more likely to be independents who steer clear of party politics, generally. And the Democrats who might go against their party on election day, my guess is, will be the people who just can't stomach Hillary Clinton-- and regardless of whether Florida gets its delegates or not, I think at this point, it's pretty much a given that Hillary will be the Democratic nominee.

In sum, the Bradenton Herald looks like it's blowing smoke. But the Florida Democratic Party might not be, in saying that by making voting on the sexy race worthless, Florida Democrats might skip out on voting on the ballot initiative that they evidently think is crucial.

Of course, being as I don't side with Democrats on taxes, that's no bad thing so far as I am concerned.


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