Florida may haunt Democrats again

by Jim Longworth

As a member of the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences and as a judge for the Emmys, I was recently able to view an advance copy of HBO’s new film Recount. It reminded me just how corrupt and unpredictable American presidential politics can be. Recount is the dramatic re-telling of how George Bush and his political cronies (including in the Supreme Court) denied Al Gore the opportunity to properly count all votes in the Sunshine State in the 2000 presidential election. Gore still managed to win the popular vote nationwide, but lost in the electoral college due to shennanigans in Florida. In any event, my purpose is not to review a movie, but rather to point out that, once again, Florida may be the controversial key to who will occupy the Oval Office next January. As you recall (pardon the expression), the Republican-controlled Florida legislature voted last year to move its primary to an earlier date, knowing that the opposition party would penalize voters by refusing to seat all delegates. Still, more than 1.7 million Democrats turned out to vote, and they cast their ballots overwhelmingly for Sen. Hillary Clinton, giving her 105 of the 185 delegates up for grabs. It was a huge victory for Clinton because her supporters turned out in record numbers despite threats from the Democratic National Committee. Speaking of the idiots at DNC, they will meet again on May 31 to decide once and for all what to do about the Florida delegation. They will also rule on the Michigan debacle, where voters were disenfranchised for the same reason. Clinton won even bigger in Michigan, with 55 percent of the vote and picking up 85 denied delegates. I don’t care whether or not you like Clinton; the fact remains that she deserves those 190 missing delegates just as Gore deserved to have thousands of missing votes counted eight years ago. And the people of Florida and Michigan deserve to have their voices heard in this election. If the DNC denies Hillary her rightful delegates, then I hope she mounts a legal challenge. And this time, unlike in 2000, the Supreme Court might actually make an unbiased ruling since most of the justices have no stake in the Democratic squabble. Giving Clinton her missing 190 delegates would put her back in the hunt and cut down Obama’s lead, which currently stands at 1,903 to 1,718. If, however, Hillary loses her fight in Florida and Michigan, and if Obama is the nominee, then the Democrats face another problem in November. Remember that Hillary won big in Florida, mainly because she is popular with older Americans, many of whom say they would not vote for Obama. In that case, he may be denied the White House because of dissatisfaction from voters who he helped to disenfranchise in the first place. Think about it. Obama must also be concerned about the legendary Democratic curse. In recent history whenever two Democrats waged a fierce primary battle against each other, the eventual nominee suffered in the general election. Ted Kennedy sullied Jimmy Carter in 1980, and Gary Hart did the same for Walter Mondale in 1984. By all accounts, Obama and Clinton dislike each other, and their rhetoric has been heated to say the least. As the nominee, it will be up to him to repair the damage – particularly among white, working-class Democrats who are threatening to stay home in November if Hillary isn’t heading up the ticket. According to CNN data collector John King, Obama can only defeat Sen. John McCain if the Democrats take Virginia, North Carolina and Georgia out of the GOP electoral column. And, adds King, Obama must do well in Wisconsin, Minnesota, New Mexico, Colorado and Nevada. But with all due respect to King (and to the bevy of national media pundits), it will be Florida that decides the 2008 election, either prior to, or on Nov. 4. One way or another, the Sunshine State will once again play a controversial role in presidential politics. The question is: Who will end up benefitting most from that controversy? And so I urge you to watch Recount on HBO. Then I urge you to watch Florida. Both will prove to be entertaining and informative. Jim Longworth is the host of “Triad Today,” airing on Fridays at 6:30 a.m. on ABC 45 (cable channel 7) and Sundays at 10 p.m. on WMYV (cable channel 15).