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Looking ahead to '08

Potential Democratic hopefuls woo Florida voters

By Sasha Johnson
CNN Washington Bureau


Democratic Party

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Florida (CNN) -- With more than two years and 10 months until the next presidential election, some potential 2008 Democratic hopefuls aren't wasting anytime wooing voters.

Virginia Gov. Mark Warner, Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack, and former U.S. Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina all took a turn through this past weekend's Florida Democratic State Convention to drum up support for 2006 candidates, but they didn't miss an opportunity to showcase possible '08 themes.

None of the three men have declared intentions to seek their party's presidential nomination in 2008.

But all three have traveled to politically key states to raise money for Democratic candidates and rally the party faithful before next year's midterm elections.

"This state and the governor's race and the Senate race and the congressional races are among the most important, if not the most important, races in 2006," Vilsack told a packed Lake Buena Vista ballroom.

"It is absolutely essential that we elect a Democratic governor in this state."

The current Florida governor is Republican Jeb Bush, younger brother of President Bush. Re-elected in 2002, he is prevented by law from seeking a third term in 2006.

United on opposition to war

All three politicians touched on similar themes, ranging from the importance of community to the need to lift up the underserved.

They were all united in their criticism of the Bush administration, especially its handling of the Iraq war.

"Is there any question in America that the president and his administration misrepresented the causes and purposes for going for war?" Vilsack asked.

"There's now a new standard of employment in the White House. All you have to do is avoid indictment."

"I know the Republicans would like to pretend that a lot of this hasn't happened, but the president is responsible for it," said Edwards, who garnered the most media attention during the convention.

He also said he believed the "2006 elections will be enormously impacted by what's happened over the last few years" and that there's a "huge appetite and momentum" in the country for change.

Warner still hot commodity

In between touting the importance of turning the Sunshine State from red to blue, Vilsack and Warner took the opportunity to introduce themselves to Florida voters, many of whom had heard only passing references to them.

"I was sleeping on my friends' couches and trying to figure out how to make ends meet," Warner told a breakfast crowd Sunday morning, detailing his rise from law student to cellular phone industry tycoon to Virginia governor.

"I always remember my law school classmates saying to me, 'Warner, you're so crazy, who's going to want a car telephone?' They're still practicing law."

Many delegates were eager to see Warner, who has enjoyed a fair amount of media buzz about his '08 prospects after his Democratic lieutenant governor won last month's election to succeed him. Warner was prevented by law from seeking a second term.

Warner's cachet as a Democratic governor in a Republican state allowed him some room to preach to the party faithful about the pitfalls of the Democrats' electoral strategy.

"I think we as a Democratic Party are crazy if we keep putting up candidates and ideas that are only going to be competitive in 16 states," he said.

"He speaks the truth," said Lyndia Bradley, a delegate from Cape Coral. "I mean we have to be warriors, we have to step forward."

No flip-floppers wanted

With sights set on taking back the Florida Statehouse in '06, few delegates wanted to think about another push for the White House.

Some, however, were already contemplating at least what kind of party standard bearer they'd like roughly three years from now.

"Someone who is straight to the issues and somebody who is basically going to address it and say this is what it is, this is how it is and this is what I stand for," said Michael Albetta of Broward County.

"Not flip-flopping and just straight across the board, and saying these are my convictions, and this is what I'm going to do."

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