The Democratic Party—and Presidential Candidates—Hang Tough on Florida

The Democratic Party—and candidates—hang tough on Florida.


Florida Democratic Chairwoman Karen Thurman with press.

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ORLANDO—If national Democratic Party Chairman Howard Dean was contemplating spring break in sunny Florida, he might want to reconsider.

"He would not be welcome," says Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, a Democratic former state senator. Not a very friendly stance for the head of a city known for its embrace of tourists seeking suntans and all things Disney.

But Dyer and other Democratic leaders here remain furious at the national party for punishing Florida for scheduling its presidential primary before the February 5 launch of the voting season. Party bosses, trying to avoid an early free-for-all, had decreed that only four states could go ahead of that date: Iowa and New Hampshire, by tradition, and Nevada and South Carolina, in the interest of ethnic and geographic diversity.

Hardball. When Florida, like Michigan, flouted the rule, claiming voters in large and diverse states deserved an early voice more than those in homogenous Iowa and New Hampshire, the national parties got tough. GOP honchos stripped Florida and Michigan Republicans of half their convention delegates. Democratic bosses revoked all their party's Florida and Michigan delegates. But the worst of it, says Bill Robinson, chairman of the Orange County Democrats, has been the pledge by Democratic candidates, under pressure from politicos in the four early-voting states, to boycott Florida and Michigan until after the Florida primary. No campaigning, no ads. "It has been at least as damaging as the delegate stripping," Robinson says. "I get a lot of calls from a lot of angry Democratic voters."

But the campaigns say they will honor their pledge, and the four states don't plan to release them from it. Florida's punishment may have made campaign season easier for Democrats, as they haven't had to spend money or time in a state where it's expensive to campaign. That has played well for Hillary Clinton, who has banked on her name and organization here. She's maintained sizable poll leads, and, after the South Carolina primary, she'll need a victory before February 5. "I don't doubt she'll win," says Democrat Charlie Stuart. "God's on the side of the army with the biggest battalions." But once Dems have their nominee, Dean would be well advised to get to Florida and make nice, starting with Dyer.