Were Florida Dems Really GOP Victims?

A campaign blog.
May 22 2008 5:37 PM

Were Florida Dems Really GOP Victims?

In an interview with the St. Petersburg Times , Hillary Clinton reiterates that Florida Democrats shouldn’t be punished for the Republican legislature’s decision to move the primary up to Jan. 29. Democrats "had very little or no choice in the matter," she says. "It was a Republican decision to go forward."

It’s become accepted among Democrats that the early primary date was foisted on Florida Dems by Republicans. But the reality was more complicated. As a Miami Herald columnist pointed out in March:

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  • The legislation that moved up Florida's presidential primary from the second Tuesday in March to the last Tuesday in January was sponsored by a Democrat, Jeremy Ring, in the Senate, and a Republican, David Rivera, in the House.
  • Every single Democrat in both chambers voted for the early date except for one House member, all of them grown-ups knowing full well that the rules of both national parties called for delegate penalties.

There’s more. Back in 2006, a spokesman for the Florida Democratic Party said that "Florida Democrats are all for it." Later, when the DNC penalties became clear, Democratic leaders raised token objections. According to a great 2007 account of Florida’s deliberations by the Times’ Adam Smith (who also conducted yesterday’s interview with Clinton), some Dems tried to persuade Republicans to push the date back to the safe zone of Feb. 5 but quickly backed off. Many of them were equally eager to wield more influence in the primary season, and no one truly believed the DNC would erase all their delegates. A last-ditch amendment that would have moved the date back to Feb. 5 failed to pass.

To be sure, the date change measure was folded into a larger election-reform bill, which contained a key Democratic provision to create paper trails for electronic voting machines. That’s why the entire legislature voted for it. Plus, Dems probably didn’t expect to have all their delegates invalidated by the DNC, since party rules only called for half. They may also have declined to fight the measure because they knew they couldn't win. But to describe Florida’s Democratic voters as victims of a Republican scheme is a stretch. At the time, the scheme seemed pretty darn bipartisan.

Christopher Beam is a writer living in Beijing.

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