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Democrats shut out of Florida

MIAMI – After enduring the desperate battle over vote counts in the 2000 presidential election debacle – and all the "Flori-DUH" jokes that followed – then fighting over the validity of touch screen voting in the 2004 and 2006 elections, Florida Democrats were eagerly poised for a nice clean shot at 2008. After all, what could possibly go wrong now?

Well, here's exactly what went wrong. In the fourth largest state in the country, with its mother lode of delegates and no shortage of big-money donors, the Democratic candidates are no-shows in the 2008 Florida presidential primary. 

VIDEO: The other Florida primary

That left the state wide open to the Republicans, who had a field day in all that open space, and with all that free air-time right before Super Tuesday. For local Democrats there was the sickening realization they may have just shot themselves in the foot with many of the state's famously independent voters come November.

DNC snub 

When the Florida legislature voted last spring to move up the Florida primary from March to Jan. 29th, in violation of national party rules, the Democratic National Committee reacted harshly. 

To punish Florida, it stripped the state of all 210 of its convention delegates. In order to appease the four approved earlier primary states, the Democratic presidential candidates pledged not to campaign in Florida. All they were allowed to do here was to quickly sneak in and out of private fund-raisers.

While the Republicans also punished Florida, they were much gentler. The national GOP took away half the Florida delegates – leaving a still generous 57 up for grabs – but allowed the Republican candidates to campaign freely here, and as it turned out, without opposition.

A lot of local Democrats thought allowing that to happen was just plain nuts. And two very prominent Democrats even hauled their own national party into federal court.

Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson and Rep. Alcee Hastings argued that in taking away Florida's delegates, and rendering the primary election little more than a beauty contest, the Democratic National Committee was disenfranchising Florida voters.  Hastings claimed the real victims are the people he calls "Joe and Jane Lunch Bucket." Ultimately, they lost that federal case, but the bitter sentiment still resonates.

Just last week, Florida's top Democratic officials once again asked the national party to reconsider, and once again the DNC ignored them. The campaign trail remained cold here for the likes of Sen. Hillary Clinton, Sen. Barack Obama and former Senator John Edwards.

Left with cardboard cut-outs of candidates

So, now there's the odd scenario in Miami-Dade County of a devoted Obama supporter, Dave Patlak, making lots of news by parading around with a life-sized cardboard cut-out of the Illinois senator. He stands at street corners, or outside early polling places and conducts his surrogate campaign, often entertaining crowds by offering them the opportunity to have their pictures taken with "Barack Obama." That's about as good as it gets this time around.

Following up on the 2000 "Flori-duh" jokes, a Miami Herald political cartoonist recently crafted a picture of a "2008 Duh-mocrats" replete with a donkey with a gun to its head symbolizing the Florida ban.

Of course, the Republicans just love this gift. And local Democrats are left to argue gamely that the electorate is still so energized that they expect a record voter turnout.

But from the moment the legislature moved up the primary date, and the Democrats shied away, the process was up-ended – in a state where residents had hoped, naively it appears, that would never happen again.

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