Florida Democrats, at first "just angry" over the Democratic National Committee's refusal to accept its Jan. 29 Florida primary results, are now engaging in infighting that could put the Sunshine State in the Republican column in November, and that, once again, might mean the presidency.
Even the state's leading newspaper, The Miami Herald, which rarely editorializes on intra-party political decisions, entered the fray Friday calling the DNC's decision to blacklist Florida's delegates a "kamikaze tradition" which will benefit the GOP.
The newspaper editorial, titled Time to Fix the State's Primary Mess, noted that the 1.7 million record Democratic turnout would be disenfranchised if not counted the same as other states, and "the party stands to lose any claim they have to the loyalty and support of the voters of this state."
"We will not sit on the sidelines and see our votes ignored," said one Democratic activist. She recalled that it was only a handful of ballots that cost Al Gore Florida's electoral votes and the loss of the 2000 election. "The DNC is now doing it again with its ridiculous punishment."
Democrats in Florida are saying the delegate debacle must be settled quickly because it is pitting supporters of Sen. Hillary Clinton, who won the Florida primary, against Obama enthusiasts in a "numbers game." The magic number of 2,205 would mean the nomination for one of them and Florida's 210 delegate votes, after being apportioned by congressional district, could give Clinton an edge of several more committed delegates leading toward the nomination.
So, Clinton wants the Florida delegates confirmed now, while Obama says he prefers a new way of counting Florida, perhaps by caucus.
Florida's senior Sen. Bill Nelson, who has endorsed Sen. Clinton, jumped into the controversy saying it would be wrong to have a handful of potential caucus-goers decide new results "after 1.7 million citizens had already made their choice."
"It is a constitutional right to have our votes counted," Nelson said. The Miami Herald editorial agreed, calling the caucus idea "a non-starter."
Political pundits argue that holding new caucuses (which would cost several million dollars) would infuriate the electorate and that, if the DNC waits until the convention (Aug. 25-28) to decide who is to be seated, there will be a disruptive floor fight between Obama and Clinton which would tear the party apart and pave the way for the presumptive GOP nominee Sen. John McCain in November.
"It's a mess," says Democratic activist Henry Woods of Key West., who thinks the delegates should be apportioned "fairly" with the Jan. 29 results, with Clinton and Obama each getting their share of the delegates.
Political operatives, realizing the importance of "delegate-counting" to both camps, say this may be "unrealistic."
"Let Florida count," says Andrea Reesey of Fort Lauderdale, a Democratic candidate for Supervisor of Elections in Broward County, who said she is angered by the DNC's attitude. "All votes should count," she said.
The state of Michigan is in a similar situation to Florida (both being punished for early primaries) but the key difference is that in Michigan only one candidate was on the ballot (Clinton) while in Florida, voters could choose from every Democratic candidate.
The DNC, which had suggested a do-over caucus, fails to recognize it would be a costly and logistical nightmare for a state like Florida unfamiliar with caucus procedures. A caucus would not only throw out the votes of thousands of Floridians but also put the selection process into a handful of organizers. Senior voters especially could be disenfranchised, having already voted in a convenient local polling spot rather than having to be bussed into a congressional caucus site.
"It would be outlandish... totally an unfair idea,"' said National Committeewoman Diane Glasser, who will be one of the super-delegates as soon as Florida is empowered to vote at the Denver convention August 25-28.
The Herald editorial noted that it was the Republican legislature which caused the controversy by pushing voters into an early date primary and that the DNC'S punishment of Florida was "an ill considered decision." It suggested that if that DNC won't reconsider its decision to blacklist Florida, "it should assemble a committee of elder statesmen with no ties to the campaign ... to resolve the issue in a way that respects both party rules and the Jan. 29 results."
The editorial said if the issue is not resolved immediately, it can only "help the other party," noting that a fight at the convention would be disastrous.
In the meantime, according to state party rules, Democratic voters can go to the polls on March 1 to actually select individual delegates who made commitments to specific candidates based on the Jan. 29 election results. ""We intend to go to Denver and cast our ballots." has become the rallying cry!
The question now is will these delegates be seated - or as the editorial asked "Is the DNC willing to toss the Florida voters overboard?"