Sunday, March 23, 2008
CHRONOLOGY OF A TRAIN WRECK
Two trends - states moving their primary dates earlier and political parties resisting - collided in 2008 to make a shambles of Florida's 2008 Democratic primary.
Spring 1999: Florida's mid-March presidential primary, adopted in 1984 for the first "Super Tuesday," is no longer early because of other states moving up. A bipartisan legislative effort to move up Florida's date fails.
March 14, 2000: The Bush-McCain Republican primary race and Gore-Bradley Democratic race are over by the time Floridians vote.
November-December 2000: The disputed presidential election recount makes counting votes an emotional issue in Florida.
March 9, 2004: Florida holds another meaningless primary - the Kerry-Edwards race is already over. Democrats criticize the GOP-controlled Legislature for not moving the date.
July 2004: Michigan and other states, unhappy with the emphasis on Iowa and New Hampshire, threaten to jump to the front of the line. The Democratic National Committee forestalls them by promising a new primary schedule.
August 2004: Republicans adopt a rule making Feb. 5 the earliest allowable primary date.
August 2006: The DNC schedule also has a Feb. 5 cutoff, but with harsher penalties and four "early-state" exceptions. Florida Democrats, expecting no effect on their mid-March date, vote for it.
November 2006: Incoming Florida House Speaker Marco Rubio, R-Miami, advocates an earlier primary. Democrats generally favor it.
Meanwhile, another disputed election, the District 13 House race, intensifies Democrats' sensitivity to counting votes.
Early 2007: Large GOP legislative majorities and support from Gov. Charlie Crist essentially guarantee enactment of Rubio's Jan. 29 primary proposal.
March-April 2007: The DNC warns Florida Democrats and legislators the early date will cause problems. The Florida party begins to oppose it.
April 17, 2007: A state Senate committee combines the primary bill with "paper-trail" voting, a Democratic priority.
April 27, 2007: The Senate bill passes. A Democratic amendment to make the date Feb. 5 fails.
May 3, 2007: The House bill passes after a similar failed amendment. Crist soon signs the bill.
June 10, 2007: The Florida party decides to choose its convention delegates based on the Jan. 29 primary, refusing to "disenfranchise" those expected to vote that day.
Aug. 25, 2007: A DNC panel eliminates the entire Florida national convention delegation, not just half as expected, but doesn't impose a boycott on campaigning here.
Sept. 1, 2007: "Early-state" Democratic parties demand the candidates boycott Florida. Bill Richardson agrees first; Hillary Rodham Clinton, with a lead in Florida, initially holds out but finally agrees.
Sept. 4, 2007: Crist vows to veto any bill to push back the Jan. 29 date.
Nov. 8, 2007: The Republican National Committee cuts in half the convention delegations of Florida and five other states. Florida Republicans compensate with a winner-take-all delegate plan.
Jan. 29: John McCain narrowly wins the Florida GOP primary and Clinton wins a convincing victory over Barack Obama.
March 17: As the banned Florida and Michigan delegations become a bitter issue between Obama and Clinton, Florida Democrats pursue a new vote by mail, but fail.
THE BLAME GAME
Some party insiders say everyone involved in the 2008 Florida Democratic presidential primary fiasco messed up in one way or another. Here are some of the major players and the blunders they are rightly or wrongly accused of:
The Democratic National Committee and Chairman Howard Dean
Blunder 1: Imposed scheduling penalties so strict they are now damaging the nominee's chances in Florida and Michigan.
Blunder 2: Allowed or couldn't stop the four early states' parties from imposing campaign boycotts on the schedule-breaking states.
Blunder 3: After enforcing scheduling rules against Florida and Michigan, failed to enforce the same rules on three other early states that moved from their assigned dates.
Blunder 4: Failed to resolve the controversy over the banned Florida and Michigan delegations until the tight Clinton-Obama contest made it politically difficult to resolve.
The Florida Democratic Party
Blunder 1: Failed to anticipate the severity of national party's reaction to the state's primary date change.
Blunder 2: Failed to propose an alternative delegate selection process last summer, when the possibility could have been seriously examined.
Blunder 1: Agreed to boycott primaries in two of the nation's largest swing states - not likely to win favor with voters.
Blunder 2: Allowed the controversy over delegations to become a racially tinged campaign battle instead of finding a way to settle it.
The early states
Blunder: Demanded the boycott, thereby putting their primary scheduling interests ahead of the goal of electing a Democratic president.
Florida Democratic legislators
Blunder: Failed to anticipate the consequences of moving the primary and to mount at least symbolic opposition.
Gov. Charlie Crist
Blunder: Did not get involved in seeking a solution until the controversy reached the boiling point.
House Speaker Marco Rubio
Blunder: The early primary he engineered ended up benefiting a candidate he didn't support, John McCain.
Players who didn't screw up
Florida Republican Party and GOP legislators
Whether intentionally or not, they shifted the primary date in a way that harmed Democrats but not Republicans in the 2008 election.
Reporter William March can be reached at (813) 259-7761 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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