I’ve described how the Iowa caucus voting procedure is a ridiculous way to decide how might be the next president, but Iowa’s and New Hampshire’s insistence on being the first states might have cost the Democrats Florida. Here’s what the Democrats did:
Fearing likely attempts by big states like Michigan and Florida to disrupt the parties’ primary calendars with early dates in 2008, Republicans and Democrats ruled at their 2004 conventions that states trying to butt in before Iowa and New Hampshire would lose half their delegates. The Republicans left it there. The Democrats decided to try and fix things. The Democratic National Committee’s rules committee was tasked with bringing order to the chaotic primaries. Twelve states applied for two additional early primary slots, which were awarded earlier this year to South Carolina and Nevada. Democrats in other states could not vote before February 5.
That created a sticky situation for Florida Democrats when, to nobody’s surprise, the Republican-controlled state legislature passed a law in May scheduling the state’s primary for January 29. (In most states, primary dates are set by the parties.) The primary date was wrapped up in a bill mandating a paper trail for the 2008 election–a popular measure the minority Democrats could not afford to oppose. Besides, the loss of delegates was largely a toothless penalty, since according to precedent the Democrats’ eventual presidential nominee controls the seating of delegates–and surely wouldn’t alienate folks from the nation’s largest swing state by turning them away.
But the DNC did not leave it there. In August the rules committee voted to strip all the state’s delegates unless Florida came up with an alternative to the January 29 voting….Two weeks after the DNC vote, Democratic chairs in the “First Four” primary states jacked up the ante with their notorious “four-state pledge” demanding the candidates focus exclusively on them. The signees–including John Edwards, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton–agreed to do no campaigning in Florida or any other state that might try to jump the gun. And under party rules, “campaigning” means just about everything: e-mail messages; calls to voters; TV, radio or newspaper ads; rallies; hiring campaign workers; holding press conferences. The only thing Democrats are allowed to do in Florida–where folks have been complaining for years, with some justification, about being used as an ATM for the party–is fundraise.
As Florida Democrats bayed in protest, DNC chair Howard Dean salted their wounds by opining that their votes “essentially won’t count.”
So much for the fifty-state strategy. And this wasn’t very popular:
According to recent polls, a whopping 77 percent of Floridians have heard about the Democratic boycott–pretty impressive for “inside baseball.” By a 62-to-16 margin across party lines, they think the DNC is off its rocker. And in a statistic cited by Senator Nelson at the convention, where he received a hero’s welcome for suing the DNC (and for his romp over Katherine Harris last November), independent Florida voters already say they’re 22 percent less likely to vote for a Democrat because of the whole primary mess–far more than enough, as the St. Petersburg Times editorialized, to “turn Florida red.” In another sign of trouble, Clinton has lost her lead in Florida general-election polls since the Democrats’ boycott commenced, with Rudy Giuliani moving ahead.
“There’s no question the Democrats will lose votes over this,” says State Senator Geller, who spent much of the weekend trying to hunt down a journalist from Iowa who was reportedly–and rather bravely–stalking the convention. “The only question is how many. There was great anger at the Republicans after 2000. Today, there’s great anger but it’s at the Democrats.” Among the Democrats, too. A few county leaders have reported losing longtime activists, some so outraged they’ve switched parties. Party stalwarts are encouraging other Democrats to cut off the party; top Democratic fundraiser Wayne Hogan of Jacksonville called Dean personally to cancel a DNC fundraiser this fall. Meanwhile, as Geller said, the Republicans “are smart–they won’t let it die.” In early October the Republican Party of Florida mailed fliers to thousands of registered Democrats picturing an elderly man dabbing tearful old eyes and the caption: “Has being a Florida Democrat brought you to tears? You’re not alone.” Across the bottom, the message is more blunt: Ready to Switch Parties? A voter-registration form was helpfully enclosed. The GOP has run ads proclaiming that while the Democratic “contenders have come here to take our money, they won’t stand up for our right to be heard”; online, the party is tallying up Floridians’ contributions to the absent Democrats. And, for good measure, they’re working up an anti-gay marriage ballot initiative to bring out Christian conservatives next November.
“The Washington Democrats seem to be having a hard time accepting that what they’ve done is a serious mistake and really jeopardizing the election in Florida,” says Jack Shifrel, who’s been active with the party since Bobby Kennedy’s campaign in 1968. Shifrel circulated a passionate “Dear Fellow Democrats” flier at the convention, urging them to withhold campaign money and “tell the DNC that threatening not to allow Florida Democrats to participate fully in the 2008 Democratic Convention will make the Democratic Party the butt of even more embarrassing jokes.” Shifrel, who hopes to help organize an eventual Clinton campaign in Broward County, says, “It was a dumb mistake to take a chance on turning off Democrats and independents here. It is fostering an image of, ‘Oh, here they go again. They don’t want to win. They’re such a circular firing squad.’ All the stupid jokes that people make about Democrats.
“It’s incredible when you think about it. I believe the issues are on our side, more than ever. I believe we have better candidates. But it doesn’t mean we’re going to win.”
Are New Hampshire and Iowa worth Florida? And keep in mind that a dispirted Democratic Party hurts congressional and local races too.
All this is due to so many states wanting to go to the head of the line with their primary. Many analysts now feel that the nominations will be locked up before the middle of February and whatever the schedule of primaries, most people in the country will have no say whatsoever about who will be the nominee for either party. This is a really stupid way to run the parties which results in a really stupid way to run the country. So much is focused on the early horse-race and personality aspects of the campaign [aided and abetted by the press, of course], so that there doesn’t seem to be any real input into policies. Then you add the political gamesmanship of the majority state parties in trying to go to the head of the line while screwing their opponents and you get this awful mess. And then there is the constant fundraising.
What a way to run a country … NOT!
The problem is that we have created an inherently unstable system, and the point has become entirely obvious this cycle.
New Hampshire has a state law requiring their presidential primary to be at least one week earlier than any other presidential primary. (The law does not apply to caucuses like Iowa’s.) Until this law is either repealed or ruled unenforceable–and I don’t see a viable path for either option, since the Constitution leaves election laws to states–we’re stuck with having the first primary in New Hampshire. This is why the only effect of larger states like Florida trying to push their primaries earlier is to push the entire schedule earlier.
What happens when one of the parties tries to fix this problem, as the Democrats have done here, is to put themselves at a disadvantage with respect to the other party in the affected state(s). Even a constitutional amendment would have this problem: both Iowa and New Hampshire are swing states, and they would shun the party that pushed such an amendment.
I called it.
I blame Florida. I blame Florida, and absolutely no one else. Florida is throwing a temper tantrum, and the costs of indulging them to make them stop crying far outweigh the risk that their temper tantrum will start to hurt the Democratic Party if they don’t stop crying soon. Okay, so the Republicans in the legislature set the date. Big whoop. If the state had put a fraction of the effort into changing what the legislature did that they’ve put into lobbying the Democratic Party, the problem could have been fixed by now.
I kinda doubt this is actually going to be something voters remember during the media roar of the November election. The real net effect of what Florida is doing here just is to weaken all the Feb 5 states– including Florida themselves– because of course the big universal response to all this is to tsk-tsk at the Democrats for their foolishness in daring to subvert the divinely ordained status quo of the Iowa/New Hampshire system.
I can’t bring myself to blame Florida. If we’re not going to do primaries at the same time, then states should be able to schedule their primaries whenever they damn well please. Why stop at a little bit of arbitrary stupidity? Is total primary anarchy really any sillier than letting a couple of random states pick the winner every time?
It is abundantly clear that the Democratic Party would rather not hear from more than a couple of states. I can’t blame Florida for exposing that fact. The simplest thing would be for the Democrats to simply say, “We’re only holding primaries in Iowa and New Hampshire. Fuck the rest of you,” and be done with it. This all seems like a lot of effort and strife in order to maintain the appearance that they’re interested in hearing from constituents.
Sorry, but as long as Florida officials are corrupt; as long as FL disenfranchises anyone they want while letting Ann Coulter vote wherever she wants; while FL does not recount counties where the exit polls do not match the vote count; while this goes on, FL is lost to the Democrats no matter what.
Sometimes reality sucks.