Democrats turn attention to Florida

May 20, 2008 5:37:47 PM PDT
The boycott is over. Democratic presidential candidates Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton will both be in Florida on Wednesday after avoiding the state since last fall. Obama is seeking to mend fences in a key general election state snubbed by the Democratic National Committee. Clinton is continuing her push to have the state's primary count and its delegates seated at the party's national convention in Denver in August.

"My campaign is actively working with the Clinton campaign, the Florida Democratic Party and the DNC, which is responsible for setting and enforcing these rules, to reach an agreement that will give Floridians a voice at the convention," Obama told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.

Obama did not say how he wants the dispute resolved, only that it's important to find a solution so the party can focus on winning the state in November.

Both candidates signed a pledge nine months ago that kept them from campaigning here before the Jan. 29 primary. Other than a rally Clinton held after polls closed that night, neither candidate has campaigned here since the DNC stripped Florida of its delegates in September because its primary was held before Feb. 5.

DNC rules committee members may decide whether restore delegates to Florida - as well as Michigan, which was also stripped of its delegates - when they meet on May 31.

Clinton campaign chairman Terry McAuliffe said the candidate would likely travel to Michigan sometime after her Florida trip to press for the delegates to be seated.

"They're two of the five remaining events that are going to be very important to determine who the nominee of the Democratic Party is," he said.

Obama, an Illinois senator, announced last week that he was coming to Florida, the largest of the swing states and a crucial battleground in November.

"It's in all of our interests to make sure that this gets resolved as quickly as possible so we can start focusing on the issues that are really going to make a difference in the lives of Floridians," Obama said.

Clinton, a New York senator, plans to hold events in three South Florida counties and will push to count Florida's primary, in which more than 1.7 million Democrats voted. She earned almost 50 percent of that vote, compared to nearly 33 percent for Obama.

The fact that neither campaigned here for months created bitterness among the state's Democrats.

Clinton supporter Ana Cruz, a Tampa-based political adviser and former executive director of the state party, said Obama will have to address the delegate issue while he's in Florida.

"He's coming here to show Florida some love, and rightfully so, but with that being said, there are still a lot of unanswered questions that need to be answered in order for us to properly move forward in this primary process and that is, do we count or not?"

said Cruz.

Cruz also said the state's Democrats will have to put the primary mess behind them and unite behind Obama should he win the nomination.

"We cannot continue to act like a circular firing squad," she said.

Florida lawmakers and Republican Gov. Charlie Crist set the primary date in violation of both parties' rules. Republicans lost half their delegates and Democrats were stripped of all. All major Democratic candidates refused to campaign here once the state party decided to stick with the early date.

Obama hasn't campaigned here since August, when he held events in Tallahassee and Miami. His three-day swing will begin with a rally at a 20,000-seat hockey arena in Tampa.

Obama's campaign has started moving staff to the state, with 10 field organizers joining a three-person finance team.

--- Associated Press Writer Sara Kugler in Louisville, Ky., contributed to this report.