Florida at Center of New Electoral Mess

National Dems threaten to strip convention votes if Fla. keeps early primary.

Aug. 25, 2007 — -- As far as the Democrats are concerned, this year, the United States could have just 49 states.

Today, Democratic officials ruled that Florida may not get to play a part in choosing the Democratic candidate for president.

"I am going to send a message to everybody in Florida that we are going to follow the rules," said Donna Brazile, who chairs the Democratic National Committee's Voting Rights Institute, and who was Al Gore's campaign manager in 2000.

The state's crime? Threatening to vote out of turn.

This all started when Florida decided it did not want to be one of at least 20 states scheduled to hold primaries on Feb. 5 -- or Super-Duper Tuesday, as it has come to be known.

Florida moved its primary up to Jan. 29 -- a date already claimed by South Carolina, which promptly moved its Republican primary to Jan. 19.

But that put South Carolina ahead of New Hampshire, which according to state law must have its primary at least one week before any other "similar contest."

That would put its contest on Jan. 12. Except Michigan may move its primary to Jan. 15 -- which would then bump New Hampshire to Jan. 8.

And that would put the squeeze on Iowa -- whose first-in-the-nation caucuses could be held on New Year's Day, or even in December of this year. Merry Christmas!

"I think this whole system is goofy," said longtime Hillary Clinton advisor Harold Ickes. "It's completely out of kilter. I think we start way too early."

States have complained for years that the primary system gave an unfair advantage to Iowa and New Hampshire -- two small states whose populations are not exactly representative of the nation as a whole.

This year, party officials decided to allow two other states, South Carolina and Nevada, to vote early as well -- an attempt to open up the process.

Instead, they may have opened the floodgates.

Analysts say all this frontloading may actually make Iowa and New Hampshire more powerful than ever, since candidates won't have time to campaign in the many states whose contests follow.

"No one's going to be able to campaign in 21, 22, 23 states on Feb. 5," said conservative columnist and ABC News analyst George Will.

But Florida officials say they're not backing down.

"We will have a presidential primary. There will be a vote on Jan. 29," said Karen Thurman, chair of the Florida Democratic Party.

It may mean an electoral mess that hinges, once again, on the Sunshine State.

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