Politics & Policy

Snubbing the Sunshine State

Democrats risk embarrassment if Florida remains defiant.

On January 13, 2004, Washington, D.C. held a nonbinding Democratic presidential primary. Its outcome made no difference to anyone, but I remember it anyway because it was the day that perennial Democratic candidate Lyndon LaRouche was supposed to make his big stand.

In those days, I would be accosted daily on the way to my office by the thuggish and foul-mouthed morons who distributed his propaganda (they thought they were especially clever for their obscene uses of the vice president’s first name and the president’s last). I also have vague memories of the cars they sent around town with loudspeakers strapped on top, blaring some speech by their supremely incoherent great leader.

Democrats had already excluded LaRouche from their debates, and that meant he had absolutely nothing to lose by playing and playing big in a blacklisted primary like the one held in Washington that year. Yes, that’s right: The Democratic party had frowned upon the D.C. primary and its early date. They worked to deprive it of any significance it might have held, forcing party officials to make it nonbinding and threatening to pull D.C.’s delegates as well. This prompted five of the most important candidates to withdraw their names from the ballot.

Despite the advantage this situation conferred upon him, LaRouche received just 498 votes, coming in fifth behind Al Sharpton, Dennis Kucinich, and Carol Moseley-Braun. The winner of that illicit primary was the one serious candidate who had defied the party by remaining on the ballot — namely, former Vermont Governor Howard Dean, who was still perceived as the frontrunner for the nomination at that time. As the one guy willing to risk upsetting the party elders, Dean won 43 percent of the vote and enjoyed the only victory he would have that year aside from his home state of Vermont.

Now Dean is on the other side of the law. He is chairman of the same Democratic National Committee that is threatening to blacklist Florida for moving its primaries forward. Given his stunt in D.C. four years ago, he must feel at least a bit embarrassed as Floridian Democrats face losing their right to participate in choosing their party’s nominee.

The Democrats are trying to make an example of this wild ass. Let Florida bend the rules and set a Jan. 29 primary, and all of the sudden Michigan will want to do the same. Moreover, this little tempest will not likely affect a general election over a year from now.

But if they are wise, the Democrats will think twice about this. Florida has nothing to lose by defying the party. The Democratic party is the only entity with something to lose here, even if it isn’t much. It’s one thing to push around Washington, D.C., a comparatively insignificant and small jurisdiction that would gleefully give 90 percent of its vote to Satan himself were he the Democratic nominee. But this is Florida, a big and important state that has been drifting away from the Democrats for over a decade, and might still have some chance of drifting back.

First, Florida Democrats have a legitimate gripe. Why should Floridians, who choose the president every four years, be deprived by their late primary of any real say over who gets the nomination? Why does Nevada get special treatment this year, and not them? If Florida Democrats were really unhappy with a choice they had no part in, they could (in theory, anyway) crush the party’s hopes by staying home and taking their state out of play.

More realistic, however, is the contrary argument: Florida delegates will make no difference anyway in the Democratic race for 2008, so why should Florida care about whether it gets to send them? Unlike the open Republican field, the Democratic side is already turning into a one-woman show. Hillary Clinton has mightily outclassed her opponents in recent debates. Barack Obama has spent the last month making a fool of himself, what with promises to meet Castro and invade Pakistan. John Edwards continues to be the invisible man whose sole purpose in the race is to make it look like a big shock when Hillary Clinton (against expectations!) wins the Iowa Caucus.

Given that their nominating procedure is already a foregone conclusion, any threats against Florida are at least empty, if not dangerous. In the unlikely event that the DNC follows through on its threat, Florida Democrats could just defy them and thus attract much more attention. Everyone but Dean was willing to drop Washington in 2004, but no presidential candidate wants to be the first to withdraw from a state that will become crucial later.

— David Freddoso is an NRO staff reporter.

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