Florida abandons plans for redo primary

March 17, 2008 3:21:21 PM PDT
Florida Democrats have abandoned plans to redo the presidential primary with a mostly mail-in vote. While the decision by Florida Democrats left the state's 210 delegates in limbo, Democrats in Michigan moved closer to holding another contest on June 3. Legislative leaders reviewed a measure Monday that would set up a privately funded, state-administered do-over primary, The Associated Press learned.

Florida Democratic Party chairwoman Karen L. Thurman sent a letter announcing the decision.

"A party-run primary or caucus has been ruled out, and it's simply not possible for the state to hold another election, even if the party were to pay for it," Thurman said. "... This doesn't mean that Democrats are giving up on Florida voters. It means that a solution will have to come from the DNC Rules & Bylaws Committee, which is scheduled to meet again in April."

Members of Florida's congressional delegation unanimously opposed the plan, and Barack Obama expressed concern about the security of a mail-in vote organized so quickly.

The national party punished Michigan and Florida for moving up their primaries before Feb. 5, stripping them of all their delegates to the party's national convention this summer in Denver. All the Democratic candidates agreed not to campaign in the two states, and Obama was not even on the Michigan ballot.

Hillary Rodham Clinton won both primaries. As her race with Obama has tightened, she has argued the delegates should be seated or new primaries held.

Florida Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson, who backs Clinton, has suggested one option - seating all Florida delegates already chosen but only giving them half a vote each. Nelson discussed this idea with Clinton and Obama on the Senate floor last week.

Based on the Jan. 29 results, Clinton would have won 105, Obama 67 and John Edwards 13. Instead they would get half those delegate votes.

Republicans stripped Florida and Michigan of half their delegates as a penalty for early primaries.

The draft Michigan legislation included language that would approve spending privately raised funds for the election, according to a Democratic leader who spoke on condition of anonymity because lawmakers and the campaigns are still considering the proposal.

The campaigns of the Democratic presidential contenders also received copies of the bill Monday.

"A re-vote is the only way Michigan can be assured its delegation will be seated, and vote in Denver at the party's national convention this summer, Clinton campaign aide Harold Ickes said Monday. "If the Obama campaign thwarts a fair election process for the people of Michigan, it will jeopardize the Democratic nominee's ability to carry the state in the general election."

Obama campaign spokesman Tommy Vietor said, "It's pretty apparent that the Clinton campaign's views on voting are dependent on their own political interest. Hillary Clinton herself said in January that the Michigan primary 'didn't count for anything.' Now, she is cynically trying to change the rules at the eleventh hour for her own benefit. We received a very complex proposal for Michigan re-vote legislation today and are reviewing it to make sure that any solution for Michigan is fair and practical. We continue to believe a fair seating of the delegation deserves strong consideration."

The Democrat-led House is scheduled to leave for a two-week vacation Thursday, so any bills to set up the do-over primary need to be brought up quickly. The measure also would have to be approved by the Republican-controlled state Senate. To be given immediate effect, the measure would require a two-thirds vote in both the House and Senate.

To go forward, any plan also would require the approval of the two campaigns, the Democratic National Committee, state party leaders and Gov. Jennifer Granholm, who is backing Clinton.

The contest must be held by June 10 for the results to count under DNC rules.

The draft measure would set up the a fund within the state Treasury to receive up to $12 million in cash and other assets from private donors to cover the cost of the election.

On Monday in Atlanta, federal appeals judges skeptically questioned a lawyer who argued that the national party's decision to strip Florida of its 210 convention delegates was unconstitutional.

Michael Steinberg, a lawyer for Victor DiMaio, a Democratic Party activist from Tampa, said Florida's Democratic voters are being disenfranchised by not being permitted to have their say in the selection of their party's nominee. The action violates DiMaio's constitutional right to equal protection, he argued.

"The citizens of the state of Florida are not being treated equally," Steinberg told the judges.

But Joe Sandler, a lawyer for the Democratic National Committee, said the party has the right to set its own the rules and not seat delegates who refuse to follow them.

"It goes to the heart of the constitutional right of the DNC to determine the best means of selecting delegates to the convention," Sandler said.

Sounding skeptical of Steinberg's equal protection argument, the judges noted in their questions that states select their presidential picks in different ways - some use caucuses and others primaries - and on different days. Judge Stanley Marcus suggested at one point that the only way to treat all the states equally, under Steinberg's theory, was for them to all hold their primaries on the same day.

Not so, Steinberg said. He said one solution might be to rotate the states so that each gets a shot at being in the first round.

There was no indication when the court would rule.

--- Associated Press Writers Kathy Barks Hoffman in Lansing, Mich., and Shannon McCaffrey in Atlanta contributed to this report.