Will Floridians vote?
Published: Sunday, January 27, 2008 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 26, 2008 at 5:13 p.m.
Florida's 4 million registered Democrats could hold big sway in the presidential nominating process Tuesday despite a squabble over delegates and a lack of campaigning by Democrats vying for their party's nod.
With no Democratic campaign signs dotting Florida's landscape and no constant stream of candidate ads, there are few hints that the nation's fourth most populous state and largest swing state is just days away from a Democratic presidential primary.
"It's really hard for a lot of Democrats to really get a sense of the candidates," said Daniel A. Smith, associate professor of political science at the University of Florida in Gainesville.
State party officials are buoyed by the nearly 300,000 ballots cast by early and absentee voters. As of late Wednesday, 170,806 Democrats had cast their ballots at early voting locations and 125,126 had sent in absentee ballots, according to the Florida Democratic Party.
"Florida has made it easy to vote. There's no excuse for people not voting, other than they aren't being constantly educated by the candidates," said former Sen. Bob Graham, a Democrat.
Democratic presidential candidates pledged not to campaign in Florida after the national party said it would not seat the state's 210 delegates to the national convention in response to Florida moving its primary from the second Tuesday in March to the last Tuesday in January.
The move, designed to boost Florida's role in the nominating contest, leaves the state with seemingly less sway than it otherwise might have had.
"There's a lot of irony here," Smith said. "Had Florida sat back and had its primary in March or even in February after Super Tuesday (Feb. 5), Florida voters would have been in the catbird seat to determine the nominee."
Still, the winner of Tuesday's primary can use a key swing state victory as campaign fuel for Super Tuesday, when 23 states hold primaries or caucuses on Feb. 5.
"The (Florida primary) results are going to be interesting because there are potentially going to be more Democrats voting in Florida than in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, Michigan and South Carolina combined," said David Beattie, president of Hamilton Campaigns, a Democratic research and polling firm in Fernandina Beach.
One factor possibly affecting Tuesday's turnout will be whether Democrats angry over the delegate penalty decide to stay home from the polls.
"There is a lot of anger among hard-core Democrats," Smith said. "Many of them are frustrated with the Democratic National Committee, but also with the state party for this game of brinkmanship that went on last fall."
Floridians, perhaps more than voters in any other state, realize the importance of casting ballots in the wake of the 2000 presidential election when there was a 537-vote margin in Florida in favor of Republican George W. Bush over Democrat Al Gore.
"The fact that the national Democrats have said that a million African-Africans shouldn't have a chance to have their votes count, that 4 million Democrats shouldn't have a chance to have their votes count… has gotten a reaction," Beattie said. "Voters in Florida are very conscious that their votes count."
Despite the party's promise that Florida's delegates will not be seated at the national convention, party officials maintain that the eventual nominee, as the party's newly-tapped leader, will allow Florida delegates to count.
"We'll be at the convention and our delegates will be seated," said Florida Democratic Party Chairwoman Karen Thurman. "Their voices will be heard."
As for Tuesday, she said, "this is not about delegates. It's about being excited. It's about going to the polls and letting people know how Floridians feel."
The lack of campaigning by Democratic candidates has not translated into a lack of fund-raising. Floridians have poured more than $10 million into Democratic presidential campaign coffers, money that is not being spent in the Sunshine state but rather in other early primary and caucus states.
The top three Democratic contenders raked in $8.8 million from Floridians as of Oct. 29, the latest Federal Election Commission figures available from the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan, nonprofit research group. Of that, $4.7 million flowed to Hillary Clinton, $2.8 million to Barack Obama and $1.3 to John Edwards.
Whatever happens Tuesday in Florida, state party officials say the bickering over delegates and subsequent lack of campaigning by Democrats illustrate the need for an overhaul of the entire presidential nominating process, the rules for which are now beginning to be formulated for 2012.
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