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National Politics

Florida Democrats may skip 2012 presidential primary

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Published:   |   Updated: March 20, 2013 at 08:31 PM
TAMPA -

Call it a case of "once burned, twice shy."

Florida Democrats got singed over the state's early presidential primary date in 2008, and this time around they're keeping their hands off the stove.

The party announced Wednesday that if the state's presidential primary is held before March 6, violating the rules of the national parties, state Democrats won't participate.

Instead, they'll pick delegates to their national convention in county caucuses held in June 2012 – a system similar to other states that use caucuses, not primaries, to have their say on presidential nominations.

"Should the Republicans break the rules, we will not be participating in the primary," said state Democratic Party spokesman Eric Jotkoff. "Democrats from across Florida would be invited to attend county caucuses held in June which will be used to allocate the delegates appropriately."

The decision won't likely affect the 2012 Democratic nomination – President Barack Obama isn't expected to face any serious challenge from within the party.

What it likely would mean is that on presidential primary day, Florida Republicans would go to the polls in the expected hard-fought GOP primary, but Democrats would have no election.

Jotkoff said the state Democratic Party hasn't decided whether it will submit candidates' names to the state if the primary is too early. If it doesn't, there would be no election, Department of State spokesman Chris Cate said.

Instead, Democratic voters would be invited to county caucuses to choose delegates to a state convention, which in turn would choose delegates to the national convention – who presumably would vote for Obama as the nominee.

In 2008, Democratic candidates boycotted the Florida primary and state Democrats nearly lost their national convention delegation because the January primary date violated both national parties' rules.

Florida Republicans faced comparatively light penalties.

This year, Republican leaders in the state Legislature again want an early primary but agreed to a compromise with the national GOP. They set up a Presidential Preference Primary Date Selection Committee to choose the date; it has until Oct. 1 to act, and can pick a date of March 6 or earlier.

Jotkoff said he's not worried the move could affect Democratic voters who may be eager to vote for Obama.

"We are designing a system that will very much help motivate our voters [to] participate in this process like never before," he said of the caucus plan. "This allows us to organize and energize Democrats across Florida."

He called the commission "a bureaucratic waste of taxpayer money" set up because Senate President Mike Haridopolos, a candidate for U.S. Senate, and House Speaker Dean Cannon wanted Florida to have an early primary.

The two have argued that because Florida is crucial in the general election its voters should have a strong voice in choosing the Republican nominee.

University of Central Florida political scientist Aubrey Jewett, who's politically neutral, said a non-contested Democratic primary wouldn't generate much excitement anyway.

"Overall, I think the Democrats are making a smart move," he said. "They got squeezed last time – the Republican legislature set the date, but the Democrats got penalized. This way they seize control of their own destiny."

wmarch@tampatrib.com

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