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Dr. He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named, as Jon has come to call Howard Dean around me and Buck, since just a mention of his name to Florida folks Gets Us Started, is taking well-deserved criticism. Time’s Tim Padgett asks all the good questions: Does Dean really plan to pursue a 48-State Strategy for victory, and if so, where is his leadership? More importantly, will Dean cost the Democratic candidate the votes of Florida and Michigan? We’ve been wondering the same things.
Florida’s famously feckless electoral system usually deserves the ridicule it gets. But not this time. Instead of the typical jokes about Flori-duh, the Sunshine State debacle currently gripping the Democratic Party has evoked reminders of the Dean Scream -- the notorious petulance of Democratic National Committee (DNC) Chairman Howard Dean. He, along with the other sage bosses of the DNC, has left Democratic voters in what is arguably the nation’s most crucial swing state feeling dissed, disenfranchised and, it now seems, disinclined to back whomever the Democratic candidate is in November. And that could harm the party’s White House bid as severely as any butterfly ballot or hanging chad ever did.
According to a poll conducted this week for various Florida media, almost a quarter of Florida Democrats say they’ll be “less likely to support” the party’s nominee if their state’s delegates aren’t seated at the Democratic National Convention in Denver in August -- and by seated they mean counted in the final tally to choose the presidential nominee.
I don’t agree with those who would withhold their votes from the Democratic candidate over this. But I do understand where they’re coming from. Dean claimed it was of vital importance that states like Iowa and New Hampshire, with tiny homogeneous populations, get to go one-on-one with the candidates because this intimate voter contact is what makes democracy work. He then forbade any candidate to be heard or seen by Florida voters.
Then there’s the question of all the prodigious Flori-dough. Prominent Florida Democratic donors and fund raisers are now threatening to withhold or seek the return of hundreds of thousands if not millions of dollars from the national party if at least some of the state’s delegates are not reinstated.
Those risks were already apparent when Dean and the DNC made their original fateful decision.
…the DNC’s lack of foresight is astonishing, even more so now that Florida and Michigan have rejected the idea of costly and less than reliable primary revotes. After all, the Republican National Committee annulled only half of Florida’s G.O.P. delegates -- a more measured ruling the DNC could have mirrored. And while Democratic rivals Obama and Hillary Clinton couldn’t set foot in Florida in January, John McCain and his Republican competitors campaigned there and scored valuable face time with Florida independents, with McCain even winning the endorsement of the popular Crist.
The question at hand isn’t was Dean right back then. The question is, what are we going to do now? Dean appears resolved to put his own pride before a solution.
…Dean and the DNC painted themselves into a corner. They can’t easily lift the Florida-Michigan sanctions after all the authoritarian chest-thumping they did last year. Yet if the party heads into Denver without a clear nominee -- and needing the votes of Florida and Michigan to decide the issue -- their peremptory action will seem even more ridiculous, making the leadership of the so-called people’s party look like a clique of arrogant patricians thwarting the popular will.
What’s worse, Dean and the DNC now look all but AWOL when it comes to resolving a mess they did so much to create, leaving it to the states to figure it out.
Dean seems to believe that the Democratic candidate can take the White House even while losing the electoral college votes of Florida and Michigan. He imagines that Democrats will be so strong they will trounce McCain without breaking a sweat. Recent polls don’t bear that idea out. Dean was wrong once before, about his own chances. We will all be screaming like banshees if we let him bungle again.