Democrats Look to Hold Back Primary Dates

The Democratic National Committee has decided to strip Florida of all its presidential convention delegates, unless the state holds its primary later than its planned date of Jan. 29 next year. The DNC met Saturday to try to slow the rush by the states to move up their primaries.

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DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:

Florida Democrats could pay a heavy price for moving up their presidential primary. The rules and by-laws panel of the Democratic National Committee voted today to seat no delegates at all from the state of Florida at the party's August 2008 Presidential Nominating Convention. Florida has scheduled its primary for January 29th, earlier than National Democratic Party rules allow.

NPR's senior Washington editor Ron Elving attended the rule's meeting today, and joins us in the studio now to talk about just exactly what is going on.

Ron, this sounds very serious. Does this mean that Florida is actually going to be cut out of the Democratic presidential nominating process?

RON ELVING: Well, that's the story for now, Debbie, but that's not the end of the story. The committee gave Florida 30 days to come up with another plan, move their primary back and then there will be reconsideration after they come up with something. And at some point, the full Democratic National Committee is going to have to rule on this, and that could come anytime right up to the first day of the convention next August.

ELLIOTT: Is it even conceivable that the party would shut out the fourth largest state in the country?

ELVING: Well, here we are conceiving of it but it's not realistic. Today's vote was the action of an enforcement panel, people whose job it is to blow the whistle, calling the rules, dish out some of kind of a penalty. And they had to do what they did otherwise they're sending a complete green light to New York and California, every other state to move up into January.

But in the end, they can't really tell Florida they're not coming to the nominating convention. The state's too important in the 2008 general election. And so somebody's going to have to sit down and figure out a way to deal with this dilemma.

ELLIOTT: What about Florida Democrats? Could they decide to move the primary forward a bit?

ELVING: They could move their - they could talk about holding a primary on another day, but they can't move back their state's overall primary because the state legislature and the governor have already changed the law. It's going to be on January 29th.

Now, they could just say they're going to do the presidential voting on a different day, if they wanted to, but then there are people who aren't going to show for the January 29th primary, which also has other ballot issues of important state-wide on the ballot that day so they'd be conceding all those other issues to the Republicans.

So if they are going to move their primary just to have something separate for presidential, they're going to lose all their people on that other day.

ELLIOTT: What does all this mean for the actual candidates who are out there campaigning? Surely, they can't just stop paying attention to Florida, stop visiting the state of Florida.

ELVING: The candidates are going to assume that sooner or later something will be worked out to get Florida back in the game at the convention in Denver next year and so they're going - keep going to Florida. They have said they are going to keep going to Florida. The party can threaten to penalize them in some way or another, but it's just not realistic to talk about taking delegates away from them for going to Florida.

ELLIOTT: You mentioned that several other states have been considering moving their dates up, other states have already done so. What does this vote today mean for those states? Is this some sort of a message that's being sent out?

ELVING: It is a cautionary flag, very much so to the other states. Today, for example, the same panel approved the Michigan plan, but the Michigan plan they approved is a caucus that takes place in February, not the January 15th primary that's outside the rules that Michigan is talking about. But that's not law yet in Michigan. It's only half the legislature, the governor hasn't signed it and the committee is obviously hoping that Michigan will back off of that and that the Democrats there will stay in February.

ELLIOTT: It sounds like this is something we'll be hearing more of.

ELVING: Absolutely certain.

ELLIOTT: NPR's Ron Elving, thank you so much.

ELVING: Thank you, Debbie.

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