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Florida ups the ante

From NBC's Domenico Montanaro
The day before the Democratic National Committee may level sanctions against Florida for moving up its primary to Jan. 29, Florida Democrats threatened legal action against the DNC if the state is punished and said the DNC would, in effect, "disenfranchise" Florida voters.

"If the DNC sanctions Florida, then some of us on the Florida congressional delegation may ask an appropriate legal venue to determine whether or not a political party's rules can supercede someone's right to vote," said Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) on a conference call with reporters. Nelson admitted, though, he did not know what their legal argument would be or to which court they could appeal.

VIDEO:  NBC's Political Director Chuck Todd offers his first read on the battle of leapfrogging primaries.

Nelson also said he proposed a compromise to DNC Chairman Howard Dean twice, as recent as a month ago in a face-to-face meeting he described as cordial, that the other states all move up their selection contests by seven days to maintain the nominating order.

Florida can't move its date, Nelson said, because it's set by law, adding that there will absolutely be a Jan. 29 Florida primary. Nelson repeated his charge that stripping Florida of its delegates would render the state's Jan. 29th vote a "beauty contest." Rep. Alcee Hastings said it wouldn't be a beauty contest; it would be an "ugly contest."

Nelson, Hastings and Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz added that they were surprised to learn the DNC would level sanctions. But the DNC has long been warning of sanctions if Florida moves up.

"We are in a situation, where we have a Republican-controlled legislature," Wasserman-Schultz maintained. "It was beyond our control, our members control."

But neither Nelson nor Hastings nor Wasserman-Schultz said they would have wanted to keep the contest at Feb. 5. In fact, quite the contrary.

Hastings: "We stand a better chance of winning the general election by keeping this Jan. 29th."

Nelson: "We're going to have a big turnout in Florida on Jan. 29th."

Wassmerman-Schultz: "We do want Florida to be more relevant. To remain at the back of the pack, where we're irrelevant" is not what was wanted.

Nelson expressed frustration at the entire process and said he will introduce a measure in November to institute regional primaries with a rotating schedule.

"Doesn't this indicate the process is flawed?" Wasserman-Schultz said. "There is no state that is going to let their state's voters be irrelevant."