Clinton, Giuliani lead in Florida

[11 June 2007]

By Beth Reinhard

McClatchy Newspapers (MCT)

MIAMI - Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Rudy Giuliani are lapping their rivals by roughly 20 points in Florida, though many voters haven’t picked a favorite in the presidential race, according to a poll conducted for The Miami Herald.

Among Republican voters, 30 percent said they weren’t sure, preferred an undeclared candidate or won’t vote. Among Democrats, 28 percent were in limbo.

“This poll in Florida reflects what the national polls are showing,” pollster John Zogby said. “This is all wide open. The campaign has not been engaged sufficiently in Florida for us to get a real read.”

Just wait. Florida voters are poised to play a decisive role in choosing the 2008 presidential nominees. A new law bumps up the state’s presidential primary from the second Tuesday in March to the last Tuesday in January, making Florida the first big-state primary in the nation.

Florida Democratic leaders resolved Sunday to embrace the Jan. 29 date set by the Republican-led Legislature, defying rules set by their own national party that only four smaller states can vote that early.

The state could lose half of its delegates to the 2008 Democratic National Convention. Worse, Democratic candidates could boycott the state because they can’t earn any of those convention delegates - even if they win the most votes on Jan. 29.

The state party could avoid the penalties by running its own election, called a caucus, after Feb. 5. Organizing a caucus could cost the party millions of dollars.

And in keeping with the Democratic Party’s post-2000 mantra to make every vote count, activists decided not to cast aside the results of the traditional, taxpayer-funded primary.

“In 2000, we believed as Democrats that every vote in Florida was not counted,” said Broward County Democratic Party Chairman Mitch Ceasar, who also serves on the national committee. “We don’t want Florida voters to feel again that their votes are discounted, this time, at the hands of the Democratic Party.”

Ceasar was among dozens of leaders from around the state who voted unanimously Sunday to support the Jan. 29 primary during a meeting at the Westin Diplomat Resort and Spa in Hollywood. The proposal is due Thursday, but it won’t become official for another month or so.

Then it will undergo review by the national party’s rules committee, which includes representatives from every state in the country - most of whom followed the primary calendar rules. National party leaders will face a tough choice: making an exception for Florida that could be unpopular elsewhere, or punishing the nation’s largest battleground state at the national convention.

“This is not a confrontational situation,” Ceasar said. “I’m very confident that over time that something will be worked out. Both entities have Florida Democrats’ interests and national Democrats’ interests at heart.”

Many party strategists predict that even a loss of half of the state’s delegates may not matter, since a nominee often emerges long before the convention rolls around.

The Florida Republican Party will also submit a Jan. 29 proposal, but the national GOP’s penalties are not as harsh. The state could similarly lose half of its delegates to the 2008 Republican National Convention, but candidates who campaign in Florida can still earn them.

If the election were held today, Clinton and Giuliani would be the clear winners in Florida. Clinton snared 36 percent of Democratic voters, while Giuliani got 31 percent of Republicans in the Zogby International poll.

The survey, conducted for The Herald and WFOR-CBS4 in association with the Palm Beach Post and WPEC Channel 12, included 326 likely Republican voters and 332 likely Democratic voters from June 4-6. The margin of error was plus or minus 5.5 percent.

Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor who was virtually unknown in Florida before his first visit in January, is starting to make inroads. He tied Arizona Sen. John McCain - a well-known national figure since his 2000 presidential bid - with each garnering 12 percent.

“We have a Romney ascendancy, and that’s at the expense of John McCain within the last month,” Zogby said.

Just two points behind was Fred Thompson, the former Tennessee senator and actor, who has not officially entered the race. His showing, along with the 8 percent of Republicans who said they prefer another undeclared candidate, suggests that many GOP voters are still waiting to be charmed.

Just as Romney quickly made an impression, so did one of the Democratic newcomers to national politics. Illinois Sen. Barack Obama came in second place with 16 percent, statistically tying former vice presidential nominee John Edwards with 11 percent. New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, the only Hispanic seeking the nomination, got 6 percent.

Presidential contenders have been visiting Florida steadily over the past few months, staying for a day or two before heading back to the earliest primary states of Iowa and New Hampshire. But the announcements last week by Giuliani and McCain that they will forgo a traditional straw poll in Iowa this summer suggests they may increasingly direct their resources toward Florida. Giuliani hired eight new staffers in Florida earlier this month.

Edwards is campaigning Monday in South Florida, attending two private fundraisers and a $15-per-person event at the Rusty Pelican on Key Biscayne.

Published at: