Fla. Democrats Weigh Presidential Primary 'Do-Over' Florida's Democratic leadership is divided over a solution to its primary dilemma, with some favoring a mail-in redo and others wanting to go all the way to the convention and demand the seating of the delegates chosen in defiance of party rules. Some say the candidates themselves should work it out.
NPR logo

Fla. Democrats Weigh Presidential Primary 'Do-Over'

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/88200218/88200181" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Fla. Democrats Weigh Presidential Primary 'Do-Over'

Fla. Democrats Weigh Presidential Primary 'Do-Over'

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/88200218/88200181" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

It has been weeks now since Florida and Michigan held their presidential primaries but Democrats still don't know if the states will play any role in selecting the party's nominee. Most Democrats and both candidates, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama agree on one thing: they all want the states' delegates seated at the Democratic convention in August.

But in Florida at least, NPR's Greg Allen reports there is no agreement on how to get there.

GREG ALLEN: This is a problem that's been brewing for nearly a year since Florida's legislature voted to move up the state's presidential primary to January 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 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 Senator Hillary Clinton who won in both states and needs those delegates to be competitive with rival senator, Barack Obama.

Appearing today on NPR's MORNING EDITION, Clinton made it clear that her first preference is that the votes from the Michigan and Florida contest be counted.

(Soundbite of interview)

Senator HILLARY CLINTON (Democrat, New York; Presidential Candidate): 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.

ALLEN: 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 would also be 50 sites around the state where Democrats could cast their votes in person. The state party said it would raise between 10 and $12 million from private donors to pay for the vote. Florida Democratic Chair Karen Thurman says she felt it was important to get some kind of proposed solution on the table.

Ms. KAREN THURMAN (Chairwoman, Florida Democratic Party; Former Democratic Representative, Florida): So we said, okay, there's an option and this is the one that we think the Florida Democratic Party can run.

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

Representative DEBBIE WASSERMAN SCHULTZ (Democrat, Florida): All nine House members on the Democratic side are opposed to a revote by mail.

ALLEN: Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz is a Clinton supporter and says while it's important that Florida's delegates be seated, this isn't the way to do it.

Rep. SHULTZ: 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. So in poor communities, you're really potentially disenfranchising so many people because their ballot doesn't find them because they're last known address, they don't live at. That's a real problem.

ALLEN: 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 have voted. After nearly a year of trying to sort through this, Florida Democratic Chair Karen Thurman is frustrated, but she refuses to call it a mess.

Ms. THURMAN: 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.

ALLEN: That's 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 also not supporting the mail-in revote, but in an interview that airs tomorrow on NPR's MORNING EDITION, he's not ready to offer his own solution.

(Soundbite of interview)

Senator BARACK OBAMA (Democrat, Illinois; Presidential Candidate): Our position consistently, has been that the Michigan and Florida delegation should be seated and that we should come up with a system that is fair to all the parties involved. And that we will obey the rules that the DNC comes up with.

ALLEN: If the Florida and Michigan problems aren't sorted out, there could be a damaging floor fight over credentialing at the parties' August convention in Denver. And that's what worries Florida's Democratic Senator Bill Nelson, who talked about Obama and Clinton on the Senate floor today.

Senator BILL NELSON (Democrat, Florida): Twenty-two percent of independents in Florida today say they are less likely to vote for the Democratic nominee because of this party fracas. And so it is clearly in the interest of both Hillary and Barack that they get this thing settled.

ALLEN: 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 there 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.

Greg Allen, NPR News.

Copyright © 2008 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.