Florida will not just hold a Republican primary next Tuesday.
It will also hold a Democratic primary.
The dynamics of the contests could not be more different, however. Republicans John McCain, Mitt Romney, John McCain and Mike Huckabee are working the state aggressively, with several of them – especially Giuliani, possibly Huckabee — facing the prospect of political ruin in the state.
For Democratic candidates, however, Florida is currently a no-go zone.
Like Michigan, which held a Democratic primary January 15, Florida jumped ahead of the Democratic National Committee’s official schedule for primaries and caucuses. As with Michigan, the candidates agreed not to campaign in Florida.
But what if one or more of the candidates started campaigning in Florida?
What if Illinois Senator Barack Obama, fresh from a win in South Carolina on Saturday night, flew to Miami for two days of intensive campaigning in Florida?
What if former North Carolina Senator John Edwards worked the union-friendly precincts of Tampa?
What if New York Senator Hillary Clinton went to Disneyworld?
The latest Mason-Dixon polling shows that Clinton leads among likely Florida Democratic primary voters with 47 percent support to 25 percent for Obama. Fifteen percent back Edwards, while roughly 10 percent are undecided.
Most observers suspect that that the numbers for Clinton are inflated and soft. Could Obama upset her and score a critical win a week before the February 5 “super Tuesday” primaries and caucuses? After all, a victory in the swing state of Florida counts for a lot more than one in the solidly Republican state of South Carolina.
The notion that Obama could divert his campaign to Florida, or that all the leading Democratic candidates might do so, has some state party officials excited.
In a letter to DNC chair Howard Dean, a top Florida Democrat, Alex Sink, asked that the party’s official restriction on candidates campaigning in Florida be lifted for the last two days before the primary.
”At this point, the effort to preclude Democratic presidential candidates from campaigning in Florida is serving no purpose except to give the Republican Party a head start in the general election,” Sink wrote in a letter to Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean and party leaders in Iowa, South Carolina, New Hampshire and Nevada, who had supported the restriction against campaigning in Florida.
After Florida scheduled its primary for January 29, the Democratic presidential candidates responded to pressure from the DNC – which stripped the state of its convention delegates in a punishment move that everyone knows will be rendered meaningless when a Florida delegation is seated at this summer’s party confab – and the early primary and caucus states.
Sink and other Florida Democrats want Dean and party officials from Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina to — the approved early-primary and caucus states — to release the remaining candidates from their pledge and allow them to campaign on Sunday and Monday in what remains a critical swing state.
That would seem to make all the sense in the world.
But if Dean were to agree to a lifting of the limitation – and especially if he would agree to allow convention delegates to be chosen Tuesday — that could create a problem for Hillary Clinton. As now, the Obama campaign is scrambling to try and convince media outlets that a Clinton win in Florida should be discounted as meaningless; but that won’t happen.
Right now, if all goes according to plan, Clinton will gain some very cheap yet very favorable publicity next week. After Obama gets recognition for winning South Carolina, Clinton will get a “Hillary Wins Florida” headline on Wednesday – taking the shine off Obama’s win and refocusing attention on the New York senator as the race moves toward the February 5 Super Tuesday primaries and caucuses.
State Representative Luis Garcia, a Miami Beach Democrat who serves as vice chair of the Florida Democratic Party says, ”There’s going to be a winner and a loser in Florida, whether it counts or not.”Garcia is only half right. While a Florida win would not count in the delegate race, it will count in the critical positioning for the February 5 primaries and caucuses.
As of now, it is most likely to count for Clinton, who will probably need the boost after losing South Carolina.
Putting Florida in play would not necessarily alter that equation, but it could.
And from a purely democratic sense, that would be appropriate.If Obama, Clinton and Edwards were to bring the race to Florida for several days of spirited campaigning, the limelight would move off the Republican contest – at least to some extent – and the biggest state that will vote before February 5 would do so in a real sense. Then, if Clinton were to get a “Hillary Wins” headline, it would stand for something. Similarly, if Obama were to win, or if Edwards were to run better than expected, it would have meaning.And there is no reason to deny Florida Democrats a glimpse of the candidates at this point.