Florida Democrats Sticking to Early Presidential Primary

The Florida Democratic Party will stick with a Jan. 29 presidential primary even if it means losing all its nominating convention delegates, a party source said Saturday.

The Democratic National Committee gave the state party until Sept. 29 to come up with an alternative delegate selection plan to stay within party rules, such as caucuses or a vote-by-mail primary, but party leadership has rejected that idea.

State party Chairman Karen Thurman, members of the congressional delegation and state legislative leaders were scheduling a news conference Sunday to announce their position. State party staff has been polling executive committee members and determined at least 75 percent support for the early primary, the source said. The source spoke on condition of anonymity because executive committee members were still be notified.

"On Jan. 29, 2.5 million Floridians are going to go to the polls, and that's more telling than any caucus in Iowa," said Miami-Dade County Democratic Party Chairman Joe Garcia. "We'll be damned for it by some, but I think we're doing the right thing."

Broward County state committeewoman Diane Glasser, who also serves as state party first chair, said that she is fine with the decision as long as the state selects delegates in the event that they can go to the convention in Denver next summer.

"I'm not concerned with the DNC," she said.

The DNC Rules Committee voted last month to strip Florida of its 210 delegates if the state party held a primary before Feb. 5. Major Democratic presidential candidates have signed a pledge to restrict campaigning in Florida if it violates party rules.

That may mean candidates won't come to the state convention next month, but Garcia points out that high-profile supporters could replace them, such as New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's husband, former President Clinton.

"Who knows, we may get surprised and (Illinois Sen. Barack) Obama sends Oprah (Winfrey) down here," Garcia said.

Democratic Party rules say states cannot hold their 2008 primary contests before Feb. 5, except for Iowa on Jan. 14, Nevada on Jan. 19, New Hampshire on Jan. 22 and South Carolina on Jan. 29. Michigan has scheduled a Jan. 15 primary.

Phone calls and e-mails to the DNC weren't immediately returned.

Florida's Republican Legislature voted last spring to set the Jan. 29 primary date, and Republican Gov. Charlie Crist signed it into law. In June, the state Democratic Party voted to go along with the date, saying it was the best chance to get as many people involved in the process as possible. It reaffirmed the vote in August.

Even though Florida won't have delegates at the nominating convention, party leaders felt that the Jan. 29 date will let the rest of the country know who the state supports one week before an expected 25 states go to the polls, including big prizes like California and New York.

Also, Florida will vote on a constitutional amendment during its primary election that could significantly cut property taxes. Democratic party leaders felt pushing their delegate selection plan past Feb. 5 would have affected turnout in the ballot question.

Florida Republicans back a Jan. 29 primary, knowing that the national party could strip the state of half its delegates.