TAMPA — With a little luck and the Democrats, Republicans always have a chance to win.
Who believes, for example, that W would have been a two-term president if the Democrats had put up attractive candidates (perhaps even just non-geeky ones) in 2000 and 2004 instead of Al Gore, who was referred to by some of his own supporters as “a man-like creature,” and then Jean-Francois Kennedy Heinz Fonda Kerry?
The luck never seems to end with the Democrats. GOP prospects for keeping the White House in 2008 just got better thanks to an act of breathtaking political tone deafness and self-destructiveness on the part of the national Democrats.
The Vigaro hit the Mixmaster last week when the rules and bylaws committee of the Democratic National Committee decided not to not count the votes of Florida’s 210 delegates to the Democratic nominating convention in Denver next August. And here you thought it was just Republicans who disenfranchised Democratic voters. Why, Republicans, we now see, are pikers and amateurs when it comes to disenfranchising. It takes Democrats to blow off an entire state.
Florida’s sin, for which national Democrats decreed the death penalty, was to move its presidential primary election date from March to January 29. The Florida Legislature did this in order to horn in on some of the limelight and influence (real or perceived) exerted by the mini-states of Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina that start off the presidential sweepstakes. (During my recent trip to New Hampshire, countless savvy politicos there swore to me that the Granite State’s first-primary status really hasn’t given it influence with presidents or parties, but try selling that idea in Florida.)
Doubtless you’re thinking, “Whoa, aren’t the Democrats the ones whose mantra in 2000, which they brayed endlessly, was, “Count Every Vote!”? (And keep counting them until Al Gore wins.) Yes, those are the ones. Now they’ve decided to count none of Florida’s primary votes, thereby gaining ground on the pathetic Larry Craig in the current hypocrisy sweepstakes.
Imagine the moments of hilarity Republicans enjoyed watching Donna Brazile, Vice President Al Gore’s campaign manager in 2000 and one of the divas of the “Count Every Vote!” chorus that year, leading the charge to cast Florida’s Democratic primary voters into outer darkness. Wow. From Joan of Arc to Madame Dufarge in two election cycles. Delicious stuff for Republicans.
But the reactions on the Democratic side haven’t been so jolly. In short order, Florida Democrats howled. A Tampa Democratic political consultant, with the help of an attorney who is a former official of the Hillsborough County Democratic Party, has filed a federal lawsuit alleging infringement of Florida’s voters’ 14th Amendment rights. Democratic U.S. Senator Bill Nelson has threatened to have his own party investigated. Elected Democratic officials have announced they will not support their party’s candidates in ’08 if this stands.
Adding injury to injury, the mini-states (Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina together have about two-thirds the population of Florida) asked Democratic candidates not to campaign in premature states. And those candidates, never ones to cross picket lines, agreed to avoid Florida and other line jumpers. Editorial writers across the state viewed this sorry business with alarm, and regular walking around Democratic voters took the name of their party in vain.
I got a personal feel for how serious this is when a long-time Democrat friend, an intelligent and temperate middle-aged family man, told me he was sending a strong letter of protest to the DNC. He said the letter would be diplomatically phrased. But he also asked me if the word “dickheads” is hyphenated.
Brilliant. For the first time in several election cycles, red-state Florida (fire engine red without the three Democratic strongholds of Palm Beach, Broward, and Dade Counties in the southeast corner of the state — sometimes referred to as Baja New Jersey) is in play. Until the Democrats stepped in their own mess kits by irritating every Democratic voter in Florida, there was a real chance a Democrat could carry the state, and its 27 electoral votes, in ’08. That chance today is severely diminished.
We’ll see if the Republicans are smart enough to accept this gift from the Democrats. Republicans have talked about denying Florida half of its delegates to that party’s nominating convention in Minneapolis. But they haven’t acted officially as the Democrats have. Florida Republican Chairman Jim Greer told me last week that the current delegate threat from the Republican National Committee is “just a disagreement within the family.” He says he expects to seat all of his 114 delegates in August. If the Republicans are smart (the available evidence of this is, well, ambiguous), they’ll do just that.
OK, the rush to the front of the presidential primary line was getting a little unseemly, and threatened to give us 2007 primaries for a 2008 election. It came about because big states like Florida, Michigan, and others had wearied of holding their primaries after the question had been decided. They lusted after some of the influence that the early states exert on the process, and with luck, the ultimate nominee (or at least what big state politicians think they exert). Something probably had to be done. But reading entire states out of the primary process for breaking or bending party rules clearly isn’t the answer. This isn’t a game of Simon Says; it’s the way we chose the next president of the United States. You don’t win by taking your own team out of the game.
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