Gail Collins and Florida Presidential Politics

I have to say, I agree with the general conclusion Collins comes to in her NY Times Op-Ed piece today, but I think she misses one important point. First on what I think she has right.

Florida politics are messed up, and I say that coming from a state where Edwin Edwards was elected to the governorship four times. Okay, the last time was probably due more to the fact that he was running against David Duke than because of his own political ability, but that doesn't excuse the other three. But I digress. Here's part of what Collins gets right:

In election years, Florida rules the universe. The major presidential candidates spend half their waking hours riding back and forth between Tampa and Daytona Beach. Because all politicians quiver in terror of Florida, we have a completely loony policy toward Cuba and ridiculously high sugar tariffs. And now, Florida has moved its presidential primary up because it feels that it has not been getting enough attention.

The Cuba stuff she's exactly right on, as well as the sugar tariffs. But she doesn't tell the whole story as to why politicians spend so much time here during election years. They're not always campaigning--in fact, they're generally not campaigning--they're raising money. They're in Tampa and Boca and Miami because there are lots of deep pockets. That this was a swing state in 2000 was happenstance. Politicians come here for the same reason Democrats go to Houston and Republicans go to L.A.--money.

And Floridians, as well as Michiganders, Californians, and other states with large, multi-ethnic populations, have a real reason to bitch about the current nominating situation. Iowa and New Hampshire may be lovely places--I've never been to either--but they're not exactly representative of the Democratic party these days. So the states that want to move up, want to do so because they feel--rightfully so--that they're not getting a real chance to help select the nominee, what with the collapsed primary system and the horse race coverage the media puts on this story.

Here's where Collins is really right, though:
All this is happening to protect a primary schedule that’s not worth saving. If Florida moves, the argument goes, the first four will move, too, and you’ll have the Iowa caucus in December instead of January. Big deal. Iowa in the winter is Iowa in the winter.

One thing that will almost certainly come out of the 2008 nominating process will be an overhaul of the system, because the states not named Iowa and New Hampshire are tired of the current one, and frankly, so am I. But I think she overstates the effect that the sanctions the DNC promises to level against Florida will have. (I've talked about this some over at the Florida Progressive Coalition.)

See, the media will likely cover the Florida primary in one of two ways once the votes are tallied. They'll either simply report that Candidate X "won Florida" and add the delegates to the total on their magic tote boards of electability, or they'll add the totals in with an asterisk, and hint around at the "will they count/ won't they count" controversy. But by the time the convention rolls around, the chances that we won't have a chosen nominee are about as good as Alan Keyes's chances in the Mississippi Republican primary.

The media will want a person out front, and if Florida's numbers help move a candidate toward that steamrollerish position on the path to the nomination, they'll push those numbers. By the time the convention rolls around, Florida's delegates will be quietly seated, especially if the winner of the nomination won Florida's delegates, and even more especially if not seating them would result in a potential for a brokered convention. Remember--conventions are stage-managed fairylands where the party looks competent and unified before anything else. You don't want a floor fight if you're Howard Dean, so there won't be one.

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