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Monday, August 27, 2007

With Florida Tied Behind Our Back.

The Democrats are looking mighty confident this election cycle. The poll numbers are gratifying. More Americans identify themselves as Democrats than Republicans. More Americans say they lean toward voting for Democrats than Republicans. Democrats lead in the polls on all domestic issues. The Democrat call for withdrawal from Iraq polls high throughout nearly all demographics.

They are so confident, in fact, that 30 days from now they are prepared to concede the state of Florida to the Republicans in the general election.... According to The Hill:

The Democratic National Committee (DNC) Saturday gave the Florida Democratic Party 30 days to submit a new plan for a primary or caucus or lose all of its delegates to the nominating convention.

The DNC has quite a lot at stake in the matter, it is true. In July 2006 its various minority chairpersons lauded the Rules and Bylaws Committee’s decision to add Nevada and South Carolina “pre-window primary period”:

DNC Black Caucus Chair Virgie Rollins, Hispanic Caucus Chair Alvaro Cifuentes, Asian Pacific Islander American Caucus Chair Bel Leong-Hong, Native American Coodinating Council Chair Frank LaMere, and GLBT Caucus Chair Rick Stafford issued the following joint statement commending the vote by the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee to add two states to the presidential primary calendar pre-window period to join Iowa and New Hampshire. Nevada will hold a caucus and South Carolina will hold a primary in the pre-window period.

The pre-window period had been carefully sculpted to reflect that the Democratic Party was the party that embraced our remarkable cultural diversity.

This sculpting, per se, is not, however, what is at issue. The stakes are considerably higher, as Lane Hudson, of the Huffington Post, points out:

The Democratic National Committee should realize that they are on the verge of becoming irrelevant. If their party rules can be ignored without significant penalty, then their existence may be pointless. The most coveted thing the party controls in our nominating process is the calendar. The DNC MUST stand up and make it clear that any state party that violates the pre-window period will be severely punished.

Of course, the DNC understands this all too well and is trying to firewall the threat to its raison d’etre by backing Florida down.

On the other hand, the Florida Democratic Party also has a great deal at stake. Again, quoting The Hill story:

Florida party representatives argued unsuccessfully that they should be given an exemption and not be punished because they had taken “provable, positive steps” to obey the rule, but they were unsuccessful because of the actions of a Republican controlled legislature

The Florida Dems are caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place. The DNC demand that the state bow out of the Republican mandated January 29th primary is impractical. There is no provision in the law for the state’s Election Commission to support two primaries. An alternative caucus would drastically reduce Democratic primary voter participation and discourage Democrats from supporting their party’s various candidates (presidential, state and local) in the general election.

While the DNC’s concerns are legitimate, its actions threaten to bring about the very result it is trying to avoid. The Florida Democrats are in no position to hold their primary on any other day than that mandated by state law. To hold the primary for state and local offices on January 29th and to caucus later for the presidential primary will greatly reduce Democratic voter turnout during the primary and the caucus and the general election. Should the DNC carry through on its sanctions threat, after 30 days, in the eventuality that Florida Dems feel they have no choice but to follow their state law, it will amount to willingly sacrificing a vital swing-state state to the Republican column in the 2008 presidential election and many elections to come. Republicans will make further gains in most categories of Florida state and local elected and appointed office, as well.

The DNC is grossly miscalculating, here. Already it has placed itself in a position where it will suffer some irretrievable losses. Should it sanction Florida, as planned, it will have gone a long way toward removing itself as a meaningful factor in presidential elections. The party can not possibly choose to commit political suicide by refusing to allow the Florida delegates into the convention process. It would be the equivalent of boasting to the Republicans: “We can take you with Florida tied behind our back!” In the end, the delegates will be admitted and Howard Dean will be quite appropriately deemed the most disastrous Chairman ever to (dis)grace the DNC.

As for those encouraging polls, they will most likely turn out to have gone for naught. Yet again, the fractious Democratic Party, unable to respond with flexibility to conditions on the ground, will have huffed and puffed and stepped flush upon a Republican-laid landmine. A mistake here could result in Republican Presidents, and a heavily Republican Florida, for quite some time to come.

This article first appeared, on August 27, 2007, in the Talking Points Memo Café but was lost due to technical problems during a changeover of servers at that site.

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