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Florida, Michigan play chicken with Democrats over primaries

  • Story Highlights
  • Michigan schedules presidential primary January 15, Florida January 29
  • But Democratic and Republican parties want season to open February 5
  • Democratic National Committee may strip states of delegates
  • Candidates being asked not to campaign in states unless they change dates.
  • Next Article in Politics »
By Bill Schneider
CNN Senior Political Analyst
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- What if you gave a primary and nobody came? That could happen in Florida and Michigan.

Florida's warm weather will bring the tourists, but will the politicians continue to come?

Florida has jumped the gun and scheduled its presidential primary for January 29 -- before the primary season officially opens on February 5. Michigan's governor on Tuesday signed legislation setting its primary date on January 15.

But six major Democratic candidates have signed a pledge not to campaign in those states unless they comply with party rules. Wait a minute. Democrats are saying they're not going to campaign in Michigan, the homeland of organized labor? And Florida, where Al Gore was just a few chads short of becoming president?

What does that mean? It means that, for all the talk about challenging the supremacy of the early voting states like Iowa and New Hampshire, those states are still as important as ever. Maybe more important, as they provide crucial momentum for what is, in effect, a national primary on February 5.

Want evidence? Look at where the candidates spent Labor Day.

Democrats Hillary Clinton, John Edwards, Joe Biden and Bill Richardson and Republican John McCain campaigned in Iowa.

Democrats Clinton, Barack Obama and Chris Dodd and Republican Mitt Romney campaigned in New Hampshire.

Republican Sam Brownback was in South Carolina.

Anybody in Florida or Michigan? Nope.

The Democratic Party rules committee voted not to seat delegates from Florida and Michigan at the convention if they don't change their date. The Republican Party also says those states will be penalized delegates.

Will the candidates dare to ignore vote-rich states like Florida and Michigan? Yes. Why?

First, it costs a lot of money to campaign in those big states. Candidates who have raised less money can't afford them.

Edwards says that "the contest for the nomination for the presidency should be based on substance, real ideas and who should actually change the country, who has the personal characteristics to be president, not a fundraising contest.''

Even candidates like Clinton and Obama who have the money to campaign in Florida and Michigan signed the pledge. These candidates know they dare not insult voters in Iowa and New Hampshire.

Obama and Edwards are hoping to score a breakthrough in Iowa, where the top three Democrats are virtually tied. If that happens, Clinton will have to rely on New Hampshire to make her the Comeback Kid.

Everyone agrees the primary system needs fixing. But they also agree on something else.

"We need to fix it, and we need to preserve the Iowa caucuses,'' says McCain.

Don't mess with Iowa and New Hampshire. They still call the shots. The whole idea of letting Iowa and New Hampshire go first is that they are small. They require face-to-face campaigning. To run in Florida and Michigan, you have to spend a lot of money on TV ads. But those poor voters may not see as many ads as they had hoped. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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