Lead Democrats for President Skip Florida Meeting
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.
In past years, Florida has been an important part of the presidential nominating process. But over the weekend, when Florida Democrats held their convention, the only presidential candidate to show up was Former Alaska Senator Mike Gravel.
It's part of the penalty Florida Democrats are paying for the state's decision to move the presidential primary up to January 29th. The National Party says that violates an agreement that all states accepted.
But as NPR's Greg Allen reports, Florida Democrats are mad.
GREG ALLEN: Some were wearing Hillary pins; others were holding signs for Obama, Richardson, or Edwards. But one thing many delegates at this weekend's convention have in common was a button they were wearing. It had a picture of a screw and one of National Party Chair Howard Dean. You figure it out. Let the record show the head of the floor to Democrats, Karen Thurman, was not wearing one of those buttons. She calls it a family feud, one she wishes would go away.
But the fact is Florida Democrats expected to have all the presidential candidates in Orlando this weekend; instead their keynote speaker was House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer.
Thurman, though, says that it hasn't dampened Democrats' spirits.
Ms. KAREN THURMAN (Chairman, Florida Democratic Party): There is no question that there is some disappointment, but they came. If there was disappointment, why are they here? I mean, how often does anyone see a candidate out on the road? Right?
ALLEN: Well, in Florida over the past month, the answer is not at all, unless you are a political contributor. That's because while Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, John Edwards and Bill Richardson have all been in Florida in recent weeks, they've just been coming for fundraisers - not public events, news conferences, anything that can be considered campaigning.
A National Party spokesperson said Howard Dean had no comment, that he has nothing else to say on the issue. But Courtney Chaplin, a precinct captain from Flagler County, says she's disappointed not just in national party leaders but also in the candidates for not standing up to early states.
Ms. COURTNEY CHAPLIN (Precinct Captain, Flagler County, Florida): They're not showing very good leadership skills at the moment, and that bothers me more than anything else, but yet they got people begging for money. But they don't have the stones to stand up and say this is a bunch of nonsense.
ALLEN: Although the January 29th primary date violates national Republican rules, it hasn't created a wedge between the national and state party as it has on the Democratic side. Republican candidates are free to campaign here, and last week they all were in Orlando for a debate at the State Republican Convention.
This week, as Democrats were preparing for their convention, the state GOP posted a video on its Web site featuring an empty chair and a somewhat cryptic commentary on the Democratic condition.
(Soundbite of video)
Unidentified Man: It's not just about me anymore, the empty chair announced. Today, we represent the party of empty chairs, empty wallets, and most importantly, we will be known as the party of empty promises.
ALLEN: For Democrats in Florida, there has been at least one positive development. It's become clear that the party won't make good on its threat to ban Florida's delegates from the national convention.
Chairman Howard Dean conceded recently the decision of whether the seat of Florida's delegates is one that will be made not by him but by the party's presumptive nominee, a point noted at this weekend's convention by Congressman Alcee Hastings.
Representative ALCEE HASTINGS (Democrat, Florida): Florida Democrats will be seated at next year's convention, and Florida Democrats will be the reason America celebrates a Democratic inauguration.
(Soundbite of cheering crowd)
ALLEN: This weekend, the political calendar solidified a bit when Iowa Democrats decided to join Republicans in setting their caucus date on January 3rd. Nelson and other Democrats are hopeful that once Iowa and the other early states know their status is secure, Florida may be able to work out an agreement, one that would allow Democratic candidates to campaign in the nation's biggest and most important swing state.
Greg Allen, NPR News, Miami.
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