DNC May Deny Florida Slots at '08 Convention

By Michael D. Shear
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, August 25, 2007

Florida lawmakers angrily assailed the Democratic National Committee and its chairman, Howard Dean, saying he is threatening to "disenfranchise" the state's voters by considering a plan to invalidate the state's presidential primary.

The DNC's rules committee is to vote today whether to sanction Florida for violating party rules by moving its primary up to Jan. 29 and violating a party rule against holding a primary before Feb. 5. The action would deny Florida its delegates at the party's national convention next year and prohibit Democratic presidential candidates from campaigning in the state before the primary.

In a conference call with reporters yesterday, Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) said the DNC "is poised to assault the basic right of a person to vote at its meeting tomorrow." He threatened to sue the national party to prevent the sanctions from being imposed.

"I hope that cooler heads are going to prevail tomorrow," an exasperated Nelson said. "If they don't, and if the full DNC were to then take that position, then certainly we will have to assert what we think are important rights."

The extraordinary clash between a national party and one of the nation's biggest -- and most politically important -- states is the latest evidence that the decades-old system of picking presidential nominees is in crisis. Republican leaders, too, are struggling to maintain control over the schedule of voting and could similarly sanction Florida's Republican Party.

Florida's decision to move its primary has sparked moves by other states, threatening the tradition of presidential campaigning beginning in Iowa and New Hampshire. Desperate to maintain their place at the front of the process, the two states have vowed to vote even earlier, possibly even in December.

"You now see the end of a system that we've been living with since the 1970s," said Donna Brazile, who managed Al Gore's campaign in 2000 and is a member of the DNC rules committee. "It fell apart in the last cycle, but we kept it together with very interesting glue and duct tape. Unfortunately, this is really out of control."

Nelson and other Florida Democrats yesterday laid the blame for the standoff squarely at Dean's feet. They noted Democrats are following the lead of a Republican legislature and governor who moved the state's primary to Jan. 29 by law, but vowed to stand up for their state's right to have a say in the nominating process.

"There is no elected official that is going to allow their voters to become irrelevant," said Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.).

But national party officials shot back, accusing Florida Democrats of standing by idly while the state's Republican legislature acted. Stacie Paxton, a spokeswoman for Dean, said Florida Democratic leaders are to blame for their own bleak situation.

"They could have done something. They have made this decision for their voters," Paxton said. "Did these leaders do anything to prevent passage of legislation they knew was in violation of the rules?"

Dean was not made available to comment on the situation. Paxton said that if Florida insists on having a statewide primary on Jan. 29, the rules require that it must hold a caucus or convention after Feb. 5 to choose delegates.

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