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‘No conspiracy.’ Florida Democrats explain cancellation of state presidential primary

Michael Brochstein/USA TODAY NETWORK

The Florida Democratic Party is standing by its decision to scrap its presidential primary after it submitted only President Joe Biden’s name for the 2024 ballot.

The move has evoked anger and threats of legal action from Biden’s longshot primary rivals, who say that the party is depriving voters of the ability to choose their own presidential nominee at a time when polls suggest a majority of Americans are frustrated with Biden’s performance.

“We’re not trying to create a conflict here,” progressive political commentator Cenk Uygur, who launched a presidential bid last month, said during a Friday press conference alongside fellow 2024 hopeful Marianne Williamson. “We’re just trying to do the bare minimum of getting on the ballot. And we’ve all earned it, and there’s no need for this conflict.”

Williamson and Uygur said they sent a letter on Friday to the Florida Democratic Party asking that their names be submitted to the Florida Secretary of State’s office so they can be put on the primary ballot. Another candidate, Democratic U.S. Rep. Dean Phillips of Minnesota, is preparing to send his own letter to the party, a spokesperson for his campaign said.

Jeff Weaver, a senior adviser to Phillips, said that the campaign was looking at a range of options to try to get the Minnesota congressman’s name on the Florida primary ballot, including a potential lawsuit or an effort at the 2024 Democratic National Convention to challenge the credentials of Florida’s delegates.

“We’re consulting with lawyers now and I think we’ll take a multi-pronged approach,” he said. “A lawsuit if appropriate, an appeal to the Democratic National Committee and, if none of those resolve this problem, a credentials challenge at the convention, which could result in Florida losing all its delegates.”

The cancellation of the Florida’s Democratic presidential primary comes as polls show a majority of Americans souring on Biden’s performance. A poll of Florida voters released last month by the University of North Florida found that nearly two-thirds of Floridians held an unfavorable view of the president, including a quarter of Democrats in the state.

There are roughly 4.5 million registered Democrats in Florida. In 2020, the last time Democrats voted in a primary for president, about 1.7 million voters participated, with 38% casting a ballot for Biden’s opponents.

Florida is expected to award 250 delegates to the winner of the Democratic primary on March 19. Republicans will go to the polls that day to vote for their preferred presidential candidate.

But the Democratic party says the decision was made weeks ago, and its hands are tied. The deadline for the party to submit its candidate list to the Florida Secretary of State’s office was Nov. 30. Under state law, if a political party lists only one presidential candidate, that person will be declared the automatic winner of the primary and no vote will be held.

The party chose its roster of candidates at a meeting of its state executive committee in October — a decision that went under the radar.

Eden Giagnorio, the Florida Democratic Party’s communications director, said that Biden was the only candidate nominated for the ballot and was consequently the only one whose name was submitted to the Secretary of State’s Office.

She said that the process by which the party determines which names to submit for the primary ballot was routine and had been made available on the party’s website months ago.

“It was posted for months. It wasn’t a secret. There was no conspiracy,” Giagnorio said. “They didn’t get any votes. It’s not our responsibility to whip for them.

The party’s delegate selection plan, however, doesn’t give candidates a deadline to ask the party to be placed on the ballot. Phillips’ campaign said that it first sent the Florida Democratic Party two letters on Nov. 7 providing the party with points of contact for his campaign and expressing his interest in participating in the primary.

A spokesperson for his campaign said that Phillips’ team didn’t hear back from the Florida Democratic Party “for quite some time.” It wasn’t until Nov. 22 that the party confirmed that it was in contact with Phillips’ campaign, the spokesperson said.

Giagnorio disputed that timeline, saying that the party didn’t hear from Phillips’ campaign until the day before Thanksgiving. It wasn’t until two days before the Nov. 30 deadline that party leadership was made aware that Phillips wanted his name submitted for the ballot, she said. By then, there wasn’t enough time to give the state executive committee the required 10 days notice to hold a vote, Giagnorio said.

She also said that the Democratic National Committee had reached out to Phillips’ campaign weeks ago to offer help on the state party processes, but the campaign did not take up the offer.

Phillips, Williamson and Uygur have cast the Florida Democratic Party’s decision as an anti-democratic maneuver to coronate Biden as the 2024 nominee.

“I’m running for president because I believe in the value of democratic choice,” Phillips said in a statement. “It is absolutely appalling to see that an element of my party, the Florida Democratic Party, has decided to throw away the fundamentals of American government. We need to repair our Democracy, not erode it.”

But Giagnorio reiterated that the party was simply following the rules.

“I think what would be anti-democratic would be us bending the rules for latecomers,” she said.