Democratic candidates for president, along with Howard Dean and members of the Democratic National Committee, may think they are battling Florida Democratic officials.
They are not. They are battling four million Democratic voters in Florida -- and a Republican Party delighted by the Democrats' attack on their own party members.
January 29, 2008: The date for Florida's presidential primary. It was established by the state legislature and signed by Gov. Charlie Crist. Republicans controlled both houses that passed the bill, although many Democratic legislators voted for the elections reform package that included a paper trail for ballots, something that most fair-minded voters strongly supported.
February 5, 2008 (one week later): "Super Duper" Tuesday. About two dozen states will hold primaries. Florida could have scheduled its primary for February 5 without penalty.
DNC sanctions imposed for the 7-day infraction: The loss of all 210 delegates who would have represented Florida's primary voters at the Democratic nominating convention in Denver next summer.
In an attempt to enforce party rules with draconian measures, the national party turned a seven-day issue created by Republicans in Florida into a losing strategy for Democrats nationally.
Seven thoughts for Primary Madness Week, Jan. 29 - Feb. 5
- Florida voters did not set the primary date.
- Democratic party officials, with no power to impose sanctions upon the Republican legislature, are exacting undue punishment upon Florida Democrats. The attitude, as reflected in official pronouncements (even in the "progressive" blogosphere), seems to be, Hey, who cares what the whiners in Florida think? It's one state among many with "primary envy." We're right, they're wrong; we'll change the rules some day ... maybe ... if we want to. Democratic "demagogues" elected to office in Florida didn't fight hard enough against the early primary. Besides, "Flori-duh" lost us the presidential election in 2000 ... blah, blah, blah; blah, blah, blah.
- Leading Democratic candidates, failing to see beyond their own noses, quickly agreed to boycott the Florida primary.
- The Republican Party will consider a lesser punishment to Florida for breaking their primary calendar, and those responsible for the early primary may not be punished by their party at all (Medals of Freedom, perhaps?). Republican candidates will continue to campaign gleefully in Florida while Democrats appear even more hypocritical by exploiting fund-raising loopholes in their boycott pledge and by sending surrogates to the state.
- Note to DNC headquarters: Florida is a swing state because it is so evenly divided. Small matters (like the butterfly ballot or a third-party candidate) can tip the balance.
- Other important elections at the state and local levels will be affected by voters' attitudes toward the Democratic Party's handling of its self-imposed "primary madness week."
- Only seven days - January 29 to February 5 - stand between likely victory and an entirely possible defeat for Democrats. Will Democrats need Florida? Probably. Are they willing to sacrifice everything for one single week of making a point on party rules? Apparently.
Who benefits from the Democrats' internecine warfare?
Republicans will use the ill-advised pledge of Democratic candidates to boycott Florida voters as a huge weapon to beat Democrats over the head. Florida is not a state the Democrats can afford to take for granted, especially in a year when Bush has handed us a golden opportunity to swing the state into a more progressive voting pattern.
Adherence to rules for the sake of preserving some misbegotten principle draws attention from the issues that should drive the campaign. It’s like fighting over the words “betray us”: it may not be fair but it’s the reality of politics and media coverage. For some party officials and activists (especially those from outside Florida) to simply cover their eyes and ears - while offering the same old saw on what Florida voters “should do” or “should ignore,” and suggesting that "the primaries will be forgotten by November 2008" - will not influence a single voter to go out and vote for Democrats.
Democrats should focus on winning
Forget who’s right and who's wrong. Beating Republicans is "right;" anything less is "wrong," in my opinion. So modify the damn rules, remove or reduce the inappropriate penalties to Florida voters, and/or change the primary dates for the four "first states." Everyone admits the rules are antiquated and must be changed, anyway, and the changes are needed now, not some future election cycle.
Democrats, please do not let a seven-day gap between Jan. 29 and Feb. 5 become an inpassable bridge of inflexibility, failure and recrimination:
- It's time to ignore the outrage of party "activists" who fear losing their folding chairs, straw hats and party kazoos in Denver more than they fear losing the election.
- It’s time for people like Jon Ausman and Donna Brazille to stop using terms like “demagogues,” "arrogance" and “primary envy” to describe Democrats in Florida who managed to win elections in a deeply divided state.
- It’s time to consider how Floridians are reacting to the monumental snub. Their negative first reactions have the potential of becoming even wider and stronger during the primary season and election campaign - and Republicans know a gift when they see one.
- It’s past time for major Democratic candidates to rethink their pledge to appease a handful of party apparatchiks in the DNC and the four states that "wag" the donkey. Republican candidates are already visiting Florida at a record pace, and one can only imagine the media hype come January, when Republicans will be crisscrossing Florida and reminding voters on a daily basis that their Democratic counterparts are somewhere in Iowa building snowmen.
Politics is the art of compromise
All it takes to resolve the problem - and to win the election - is for Democrats to forget how we got here and develop a strategy for winning. Move on. That means revisiting the admittedly outdated rules and the punishment imposed upon Florida voters - and to do it now, not after the third election in a row is lost. Consider 2008, not 2012 or some year in the vague future, as "the year of change.”
To say that we'll all just have to work harder to put a smiley face on the party's mess is whistling past the graveyard. Wavering voters in Florida will depart the Democratic Party in droves next year unless the party gives them a feeling of empowerment. We need something and someone to vote for, rather than against (and George W. Bush will not be in the race, in case party officials have not noticed).
The party faithful in Florida will likely support the Democratic nominee regardless of how the nomination is won, but I am not willing to bet on any candidate's ability to regain support between March and November that is frittered away between October and February. I had thought there was no way that Democrats could lose the 2008 presidential election. Every day the Florida primary issue remains unresolved creates more concern, however.
Is there no leader capable of bridging the gap between Jan. 29 and Feb. 5? It's only seven days, after all.
Update, Oct. 7, 2007--The St. Pete Times reviews how we got here: