Fla. Dems weigh redoing presidential primary by mail

McClatchy NewspapersMarch 6, 2008 

WASHINGTON -- With pressure to resolve the Florida Democratic primary's renegade status intensifying, the state party is looking at the possibility of giving voters a chance to cast a second ballot in the presidential primary -- by mail.

The party has all but ruled out as too costly holding an election in which voters would go to the polls, but is looking at a mail-in contest that could give Florida Democrats a say in the presidential nominating contest.

The move came as Sen. Bill Nelson, a Hillary Clinton supporter and top Florida Democrat, called for a revote. But the call by Nelson, who for months has opposed restaging the Jan. 29 primary that Clinton won, may do little to resolve the standoff because the state party says it doesn't have the money.

"We're going to do what have to do to have our delegates represented,'' said Florida Democratic Party spokesman Mark Bubriski. "But the money is pretty much out of the question.''

Nelson called on the Democratic National Committee Thursday to foot the bill for a revote. But Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean earlier in the day refused.

"With so much at stake, and the race so close,'' Nelson said, "it's now apparent that a new election in Florida would provide both candidates with a fair chance to win needed delegates in a state that is certain to be a key battleground in the November general election.''

Dean, in a round of televised interviews, said the national party won't pay for a do-over of Florida or Michigan. Both states violated national party rules by participating in January primaries.

"We can't afford to do that,'' Dean said. "That's not our problem. We need our money to win the presidential race.''

Dean noted that the DNC had offered last summer to pick up some of the cost of a small party-run vote in place of a state-run primary, but that Florida party leaders had refused.

"Now, unfortunately, that time is gone,'' he said in an MSNBC interview. "And we've got to focus our resources on winning.... Our job now is to elect a president of the United States, and we're not going to have the resources to run a primary in Michigan and Florida.''

Dean said the party has two options: Schedule a re-vote or appeal to a party committee convening this summer to recognize the Jan. 29 vote.

But he appeared to warn the states against waiting until just before the August convention in Denver.

"Whether or not the DNC at Denver is going to want to change the rules midstream is dubious,'' he said.

Bubriski said the party has all but rejected a traditional go-to-the-polls election, which is estimated to cost as much as $25 million, or a caucus, which would exclude too many voters. That leaves a mail-in election, which the party would run and which would involve sending ballots to registered Democratic voters.

State party chairwoman Karen Thurman says the party will only embrace a plan that covers the costs, has the support of both candidates and guarantees the participation of all Democrats, including military members overseas.

The state has said it won't pay the bill for a second election, but some party leaders wondered privately whether the Clinton and Barack Obama campaigns would offer to help raise money, in the hope of currying favor with the state.

Obama's campaign has opposed seating the delegates based on the January results, noting that the candidates had agreed before the primaries that the votes wouldn't count and accusing Clinton of trying to rewrite the rules.

Dean, too, suggested that seating the delegates based on the January votes disadvantages or advantages particular candidates.

"If you do that, the Democratic Party splits,'' Dean said. "It's going to be a close convention, and what I can't do is have half the party going away thinking their candidate got cheated.''

Clinton won both states' primaries and has pushed to have the January results recognized, but a campaign spokesman on Thursday didn't rule out a revote.

"Certainly, given how well we did in those states, were there to be a primary, we would have a good opportunity to do well again,'' Howard Wolfson said.

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