Fla. Democrats Weigh Presidential Primary 'Do-Over'

Interviews with the Candidates

It's been weeks now since Florida and Michigan held their presidential primaries, and Democrats are still uncertain what role if any those states will play in selecting the party's nominee.

In both states, there's one thing most Democrats and the candidates, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, agree on: They all want the states' delegates seated at August's Democratic convention.

But in Florida at least, there's no agreement on how to get there.

State Party Problem Now the Nation's

It's a problem that has been brewing for nearly a year, since Florida's legislature voted to move up the state's presidential primary to Jan. 29. That violated national party rules, and despite warnings from the national officials of both major parties, Florida went ahead with its vote.

As a penalty, the GOP cut Florida's delegation to the national convention by half. But the Democrats' national committee stripped the state of all of its delegates. That caused heartache in Florida, of course, but at first it wasn't seen as a problem elsewhere.

Now, with the Democrats' nominating contest so close, the problems of Florida — and Michigan, which also jumped the gun — are becoming the problems of the national Democratic Party.

It's especially a concern for Clinton, who won in both states and needs those delegates to be competitive with Obama.

On Thursday, Clinton made it clear on Morning Edition that her first preference is that the votes from the Michigan and Florida contest be counted.

"But if there is to be any difference between my proposal that we count those votes and any other course of action, it should be a complete redo of the primary. Nothing else is fair. And I feel strongly about that," Clinton said.

Disagreement on 'Complete Redo'

But in Florida, there's wide disagreement over what a "complete redo" of the primary vote would be — or whether one is even possible.

This week, Florida's Democratic Party released its version of a "redo" — a plan that would send mail-in ballots to all registered Democrats. There also would be 50 sites around the state where Democrats could cast their votes in person. The state party said it would raise between $10 million and $12 million from private donors to pay for the vote.

Florida Democratic Chairwoman Karen Thurman says she felt it was important to get some kind of proposed solution on the table.

"We said, 'OK, here's an option, and this is the one that we think the Florida Democratic Party can run,' " she says.

But that option hadn't even been released before it was knocked down.

"All nine House members on the Democratic side are opposed to a revote by mail," says U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Shultz, a Clinton supporter. She says that while it's important that Florida's delegates be seated, this isn't the way to do it.

"This would be a mail-in ballot run by the state party which people aren't familiar with and which could be fraught with problems. You have many people in poor communities who are transient and who move around a lot," she says. "In poor communities, you're really potentially disenfranchising so many people, because their ballot doesn't find them because their last known address they don't live at, that's a real problem."

'A Very Difficult Situation'

Opponents to the mail-in plan see problems with how voters' signatures would be validated. Also, they worry about disregarding the results of the January primary — in which 1.75 million Florida Democrats voted. After nearly a year of trying to sort through this, Thurman is frustrated but refuses to call it a mess.

"Well, I don't think we're in disarray. I think we are in a very difficult situation; I would not say disarray. I would say that there clearly has to be an emphasis, and I do think the leadership has got to come from the candidates," she says.

That has been one of the fuzziest parts of the Florida equation. Clinton supporters say her call for "a complete redo" does not endorse a mail-in vote. Obama 's campaign is not supporting the mail-in revote, either, but in an interview that airs Friday on Morning Edition, he says he is not ready to offer his own solution.

"Our position consistently has been that the Michigan and Florida delegations should be seated and that we should come up with a system that is fair to all parties involved. And that we will obey the rules that the DNC comes up with," he says.

Talks Under Way

If the Florida and Michigan problems aren't sorted out soon, there could be a damaging floor fight over credentialing at the party's August convention in Denver. And that's what worries Florida's Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson, who talked to both Obama and Clinton on the Senate floor Thursday.

"Twenty-two percent of independents in Florida today say they are less likely to vote for the Democratic nominee because this party fracas has taken away their votes," Nelson said. "And so it is clearly in the interest of both Hillary and Barack to get this thing settled."

One positive sign might be that Florida's Democratic House members are holding talks with national party Chairman Howard Dean. And in Michigan, state Democratic leaders are discussing the possibility of their own "redo" with representatives of both the Obama and Clinton campaigns. For weeks, all sides have been dug in and digging deeper. At least for now, they're talking.

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