Florida Must Be A Primary Player

Perhaps the best case for presidential primaries is what they are not: vehicles that select nominees in smoke-filled rooms or via convention-floor arm-twisting. But you can also make a pretty good argument that any time the voices of the voters carry the day, democracy wins.

But over time we began to notice that those anomalous (caucus and) primary states, Iowa and New Hampshire, were more than refreshingly populist, unique retail hustings. Much more, in fact, than coffee-counter crucibles imposed on those in the ultimate political-power hunt.

It was abundantly evident that because they were first, Iowa and New Hampshire were exercising political leverage far beyond their sheer numbers and skewed demographics. Quaint and traditional had become dumb and dumber. Lightweight electoral states had the wherewithal to make — Jimmy Carter — or break — Edmund Muskie — a candidacy, although hardly representative of the American mosaic.

Amid the periodic talk of rotating regional primaries, we’ve seen states start to butt in line to secure more influence. Florida, which had been more than satisfied with its relatively early March primary in the 1970s, began seeing that position erode over the years.

As the Sunshine State grew into a mega, swing state, it became obvious that while Florida — or merely the I-4 corridor — could literally determine the election of a president, it increasingly had little or no official say in actually nominating one. Candidates often had wrapped up nominations by the time Florida voters could cast their typically symbolic ballots.

And then it got worse. A dozen states, including California, New Jersey, New York and Texas will be voting next Feb. 5. South Carolina will do so on Feb. 2. Another half dozen are contemplating similar moves.

Whereas Florida had been largely marginalized as a primary player, it had now been eliminated.

The Republican-dominated Florida Legislature had no choice but to move up Florida’s primary – and it chose Jan. 29. If you’re choosing, why not choose to become the first mega state to hold a primary? Why not choose a date reflective of your prime role in electing presidents? Why not?

Well, both national parties have these pre-arranged schedules that they consider sacrosanct. They don’t want a scenario where it’s nothing but mega states creating a fait accompli nominee right out of the primary blocks. They want a more eclectic group of states having a say in the early going, which sounds hauntingly like a rationale that bequeathed us Iowa and New Hampshire in the first place.

Anyway, the Democrats are more adamant about not allowing anyone to violate their arcane rules. Interestingly enough, Florida Sen. Mel Martinez, the Republican National Committee general chairman, has stayed conspicuously restrained on this one. Not so, of course, with his leather-lunged counterpart, Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean, who has all but proposed water-boarding for gun-jumping Floridians.

In fact, so adamant are the Dems about penalizing offending states (and their delegates) that Florida Democratic officials are seriously considering a compromise that would turn Jan. 29 into a non-binding “beauty contest.” All of which could result in Democrats deferring a more serious campaign effort in Florida. To their own obvious detriment.

Which begs two questions:

*Is this really some deviously nuanced, Karl Rovian Republican plot to thwart the Dems in Florida when the 2008 presidential election is theirs to lose?

*Will we eventually wax nostalgic over those Warren G. Harding smoke-filled rooms and old video of Bobby Kennedy tying up loose convention ends for his brother?

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