State and National Democrats Continue Battle In Florida

The following piece was produced by the Huffington Post's OffTheBus.

Floridians, so far, have survived 2007 without a hurricane - but, as political junkies are aware, the Sunshine State remains in the eye of a political storm.

"For a state denied delegates, we are certainly making news," said Miami-Dade Democratic chief Joe Garcia.

Garcia was referring to the feud in which the Democratic National Committee vowed to ban Florida from being seated at the national convention in 2008 because it moved its primary to Jan. 29. The Republicans got their wrists slapped as well, losing half of their delegate strength because of the early primary date.

"This is ridiculous," said Democratic legislative candidate Linda McDonald of Collier County. "The date change was approved by a legislature dominated by Republicans. But, we Democrats are being punished."

But, with or without delegate strength from Florida, fund-raising on the Peninsula is proceeding at a highly visible pace. The DNC said that fund-raising is allowed, but "no campaigning." The top-tier Democratic presidential candidates have pledged not to campaign in Florida.

On Sunday, however, some 2000 people in Miami donated from $25 (teachers, students and local campaign workers) to $1,000 (sponsors) to hear President Bill Clinton tell the crowd why "Hillary would make a perfect president." The press was barred from the "fundraiser," but the ABC affiliate in Miami (WPLG) in its promos called it a "campaign stop" for the former President.

Meanwhile, Sen. Barack Obama's staff said it is planning more fundraising events, starting in Sarasota later this month. The fundraising emails from Sen. John Edwards and Sen. Chris Dodd flood computers on a weekly basis. Ditto for Gov. Bill Richardson and Sen. Joe Biden. And, the Deerfield Beach Democratic Club was even more explicit about campaign events, touting an upcoming Dec. 1 campaign dinner at which Hugh Rodham will speak "representing his sister Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton."

At the same time that President Clinton was beefing up his wife's campaign treasury in Miami, Republican contenders were in Orlando battling in a nationally-televised debate in which they traded jabs at who was the most conservative and took aim at Sen. Clinton, "as the likely nominee of her party." The debate was the grand finale to the Florida Republican Party's two-day Presidency IV convention, which reportedly drew 3,000 party activists but whose activities were dwarfed (at least locally) by the news of the resignation of Republican National Committee Chair, Florida Sen. Mel Martinez.

Martinez' resignation sparked commentary among Democrats. "You can't have a Latino successfully run an anti-Hispanic organization like the Republican party," said Miami Democrat party chief Garcia.

The GOP bashing of Hillary Clinton made front page headlines in many parts of the State. "Republicans debate credentials, blast front-runner Clinton" was the headline in the South Florida Sun Sentinel, headquartered in vote-rich Broward County. Most newspapers described the ninth GOP debate (this time on Fox TV) as an effort by the candidates to prove their conservative credentials and, at the same time, an unleashing of attacks on the New York Senator. It was noted in a Miami Herald press report on Sunday that only Sen. John McCain refused to attack Sen. Clinton.

The Democrats have several other items on their agenda which is constantly putting Florida in the mainstream news headlines.

1. They are waiting to find out what judges may rule in court cases regarding Florida's delegate status. Sen. Bill Nelson and Congressman Alcee Hastings went to court to force the DNC to accept Florida's 27 delegates, based on the results of the Jan. 29 primary. Broward County Sen. Steve Geller is considering a separate legal action, and State Rep, Elaine Schwartz of Hollywood filed a special-session legislative bill to move the primary to Feb. 5, a date acceptable to the DNC.

2. The State Democratic Convention will be held Oct. 26-28 in Orlando. Although
the presidential candidates (with the exception of Rep. Dennis Kucinich and Sen. Mike Gravel) say they will not campaign there, there is an curiosity around how many surrogates show up to rally support for their choice in the Presidential sweepstakes.

The defiance of Florida to hold its Jan 29 primary despite the DNC penalty continues to be a major topic at Democratic meetings all over the state.

Dr. Robert Watson, director of American Studies at Lynn University and author of numerous books including in 2003 "Anticipating Madam President," told the Broward Democratic leadership that the DNC and the candidates who signed the no-campaigning-in-Florida pledge are providing the Republicans with a powerful TV commercial for the general election: "Why vote for a candidate who caved into the Washington bosses and wouldn't campaign for your vote?"

Watson says the DNC is doing a disservice to Floridians, who compose the one Red State which had the greatest potential to go Blue.

Democrats are still hopeful that the party's eventual nominee will insist that the Florida delegation is seated at the 2008 convention in Denver - and that some candidates may ask that this be done even earlier.

Showing how delicate the non-delegate issue has become are the stories being circulated in the media and at political gatherings that a South Carolina DNC member on the Rules Committee -- Carol Fowler -- is penalizing Florida because last year, Florida DNC members voted for Howard Dean to head the party instead of her stepson. This story got huge play last week in the Miami Herald by respected political writer Beth Reinhard and was confirmed by Florida national committeewoman Diane Glasser of Tamarac. Fowler's husband Dan is a former DNC Chairman; Mrs. Fowler now heads the South Carolina Democratic party. The story has made it way up the political food chain and has been aired in the broadcast media, as well, calling the Floridians "renegades" and Fowler "competitive" in her desire to see South Carolina gains the most attention.

In the meantime, South Carolina may still be the first in the South primary date (reports say the Carolinians are now pushing their primary up a week to Jan. 19 )- but the media (and the candidates) will have a tough time ignoring the news out of Florida. At least, that's the official word out of the various county party headquarters.

"There's a reason Florida is in the news," said Miami-Dade Chairman Garcia, "We are the example of what America will be in the future. Our demographics are the future of America."