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Florida revote faces uphill fight

TALLAHASSEE — For someone pitching a last-ditch plan to hold another Democratic primary in Florida, Karen Thurman didn't sound too enthusiastic.

Yes, she acknowledged, many Florida Democratic leaders are skeptical of using an untested blend of mail-in voting and walk-in voting to choose a presidential nominee, especially in a state this large and complex.

Yes, technical and mechanical barriers remain, including raising $10-million to run the election.

And Thurman, chairman of the Florida Democratic Party, said the plan is a "nonstarter" without support from the two Democratic contenders, New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Illinois Sen. Barack Obama. Neither has offered it.

"I'm laying this out because I think this is the only thing the state party can do at this point," Thurman said at a Tallahassee news conference.

Asked whether a June mail-in primary was likely, Thurman said, "I don't know. I have a feeling it's getting closer to not than yes."

As Thurman and her chief ally in the plan, Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., sought to rally colleagues to the idea of a primary by mail, questions among party leaders in Tallahassee and Washington continued to mount:

Might the proposed June 3 date favor one candidate? Would mail-in ballots make it hard for transient Democrats to participate? And, with contests in other states being held around the same time, would Obama and Clinton even campaign heavily here?

"It just doesn't make sense right now," said Rep. Dan Gelber, the top Democrat in the state House. "We're going to spend $10-million to put 10 more delegates in somebody's tally?"

The nine Florida Democrats in the U.S. House remain united against it.

Meanwhile, state House Speaker Marco Rubio, R-Miami, said he may try to block any attempt by Republican Gov. Charlie Crist to allow state voter registration records to be used to verify voter signatures on returned ballots.

Crist said Thursday those records could be used, though it may require an executive order.

"For the state to participate in any way in helping with a mail-in or any sort of revote effort sets a horrible precedent," Rubio said.

The Democratic National Committee stripped Florida of its 211 delegates after the state held its primary earlier than party rules allowed. Michigan lost its 156 delegates for the same reason.

Under Thurman's plan, the state party would send ballots to the state's 4-million registered Democrats, including those living abroad and in the military, beginning 30 to 45 days before the June 3 deadline. The party also would open 50 temporary election offices where voters could drop their ballots.

Geller and other backers say they fear Florida otherwise won't be seated at the August convention in Denver, depressing turnout come November.

A poll released Thursday gave some credence to that fear: InsiderAdvantage, in a poll for Florida Insider, found a whopping 31 percent of state Democrats say they would be "less likely" to vote for the nominee if Florida's delegates aren't seated.

The only other apparent option is an appeal to the DNC's credentials committee. The committee, which will convene mid summer, could vote to seat all or some of Florida's delegates and decide how many should go to Obama and Clinton, who won the Jan. 29 primary.

Neither Obama nor Clinton expressed enthusiasm for Thurman's plan, and state party officials said they don't expect to hear from them about it until Monday.

One alternative being discussed among party insiders Thursday was giving half of Florida's delegates back, and rewarding them in proportion to the outcome of the Jan. 29 primary.

That would favor Clinton slightly, but wouldn't allow her to overtake Obama's lead in delegates.

Clinton spokesman Phil Singer reiterated that Clinton prefers seating Florida's delegates based on the Jan. 29 contest — which DNC chairman Howard Dean has said is unlikely — though he left the door open for a mail vote.

"We are obviously more than willing and very happy and excited to look at (proposals) as they come up," Singer said.

Obama's camp has been hostile to a mail-in election, on the grounds there's not enough time to do it right. But on Thursday Obama and his aides didn't rule anything out other than seating the delegations based on the earlier Florida and Michigan votes. The candidates campaigned in neither state, and only Clinton was on the Michigan ballot.

DNC officials wouldn't comment on the Florida plan, but Dean has said a mail-in conceivably could work.

"We're going to get us out of the ditch before the convention, the question is when," Dean said Thursday morning.

Times staff writer Alex Leary contributed to this report. Wes Allison can be reached at [email protected] or (202) 463-0577.

Florida revote faces uphill fight 03/13/08 [Last modified: Monday, March 17, 2008 10:04am]
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