On the final Friday of a parched and quarrelsome October, Florida Democrats were bumping around a hallway in Disney’s faux-elegant Yacht and Beach Club Resort on the opening night of their state convention, perusing campaign items for sale (three Hillary buttons for $5!), sussing out the evening’s schedule (“The progressives are supposed to be having a party, but where are they?”) and, mostly, grousing about the conspicuous absence of presidential candidates.
“This whole thing here is a joke,” said John Taylor, a hulking schoolteacher from Jacksonville wearing the tallest, most bodacious Chef Boyardee-style, star-spangled red-white-and-blue hat you ever saw. “How stupid the Democrats are–we’re shooting ourselves in the foot!” Taylor angrily recalled some of the Republicans’ tactics for suppressing the Democratic vote in 2000 and 2004. “They stole two elections, and now we’ve been working six years to make sure that don’t happen again. And the Democrats screw us!”
“Forget that,” his friend said. “You’re beating a dead horse. I blame the candidates. You’ve got, what, ten or eleven of them? And not one of them shows up here?”
It’s rumored that Mike Gravel will be in town tomorrow, I note (and he did appear, at the convention and an antiwar rally). “If he’s here, that’s where my vote is going,” said the friend.
Not Taylor’s. “I’m going to have to resign from the Duval [County] Democratic Party”–he serves on its executive committee–“just so that I can vote for somebody else. I’m going to vote Libertarian, probably. Or I might cross over and vote for Huckabee. My wife will kill me. She’s the treasurer of the Duval Democratic Party! She retired from her job to work full time, for no money, for the Democrats. And I’m the man in the hat! But why not? What difference does it make? The Democrats don’t care about us in Florida.”
“I think it sucks,” says Bob Matherne, a bearded middle-aged fellow in a Kucinich shirt. Matherne’s been registering LGBT voters in Sarasota for months now, but daily headlines featuring the war between national and Florida Democrats have made it tough. “People don’t understand the situation–and neither do I, really. They’re asking for clarification: ‘What’s going on? The Republicans aren’t being penalized for the early primary. Why are we being penalized? Why would Democrats do this, already knowing about Florida’s problems with voting?'”
Florida Democrats can surely be excused for feeling a wee bit put-upon–and confused. Across town just the weekend before, 5,000 Florida Republicans had been dined, wined and wooed by their presidential candidates at a lavish event culminating in a debate aired on Fox. Meanwhile, Florida Democrats–who’d planned to trump the Republican weekend with their own presidential extravaganza–found themselves in the bizarre position of being boycotted by their candidates.