Florida's Jewish Democrats ponder revote

"Why did we force an early primary only to get a slap on the hand?"

Hillary Clinton 224.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
Hillary Clinton 224.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
Charlotte Klieman beat out two competitors by the slimmest of margins - a single vote - to claim the privilege of serving as a Florida delegate for Barack Obama at the national Democratic nominating convention this September in Denver. But she's willing to risk giving that up for the sake of holding a Florida presidential primary revote this June, in which she would also have to run again. "It could very well be that I might not succeed the next time. I'm willing to take that chance for the greater good," said Klieman, a member of both the local Democratic Party executive committee and Jewish federation board. And that greater good, in Klieman's opinion, is "fair representation." With talk raging that what had been a symbolic primary vote here in January would now count, Klieman argued that it would only be right if the election were held again. When Florida Democrats went to the polls in January, they were told by the Democratic National Committee - incensed that the state had set the vote earlier in the year than allowed under DNC rules - that their votes wouldn't officially count. In other words, while delegates to the national convention, such as Klieman, were allocated according to the popular votes, they wouldn't be counted in Denver as delegates for a certain candidate, which ultimately determines who gets the party's nomination. As a result, none of the Democratic presidential candidates campaigned in the state, which backed Hillary Clinton over Obama 50 percent to 33% in the symbolic January vote. But with the delegate count between Clinton and Obama so close that a decisive victory by either one looks unlikely, state and party officials are mulling whether to reverse course and indeed count the primaries held in the major states of Florida and Michigan, which the DNC also punished for moving up its primary date. In addition to wanting greater clarity on which candidate Americans prefer, Democratic officials are afraid of alienating voters from their party in swing states that could determine the outcome of the national election come November. National party officials have suggested that the states conduct new votes, presumably in June, after the final scheduled primaries, in Puerto Rico, Montana and South Dakota take place. Aside from disagreements from the candidates - Clinton is arguing that the original vote should stand and its delegates be seated at the convention - there is the overriding issue of cost. It is estimated that new primaries could cost over $20 million, though caucuses would be somewhat cheaper. The Democrats are loathe to foot the bill, blaming the Republican-controlled Florida state legislature for setting the date too early. (The Republican National Committee decided before the primary was held to seat half of Florida's delegates for the Republican nomination, defusing a similar argument among Republicans.) So while a revote would give Florida's politically active Jewish community the opportunity to participate in another election, not everyone agrees with Klieman that it's a good idea. Shirley Merlin West pointed to the poor economic situation and argued that a revote would squander precious resources. West, a long-time Democratic activist who is involved with the National Jewish Democratic Council chapter, acknowledged that there were certain drawbacks to the election held in January, where voters might not have bothered to show up because they thought their vote wouldn't count and where the candidates didn't spend time campaigning in the state. "Definitely those were serious complications," West said. "But still they got a phenomenal turnout and still people voted the way they wanted it to be." Democrats voted in record numbers in the January primary, with some 1.7 million turning out. West said it would be wrong to deny those voters their say by not seating their delegates or by invalidating the results. West supports Clinton, who would likely find it difficult to repeat such a large margin of victory in a second contest, helping her rival Obama. But West, like Klieman, insisted that her political preference was not swaying her perspective on whether there should be a new primary. She used the same language of Klieman to register her opposition to revote. If she had to go the polls again, she said she "absolutely" would - "but I won't feel it's fair or right." She noted, though, that she lacked sufficient information on how a new vote would work. She wasn't the only one with questions. Another Democratic Clinton supporter expressed a similar bewilderment. "Why did we force having the primary early only to get a slap on the hand?" she asked. "I don't get the whole mishegas."