A full-scale war has erupted between the Democratic National Committee and the Florida Democratic Party (FDP). The proximate cause is the DNC's insistence that the FDP follow its primary calendar rules, but this dispute is about more than the 2008 primaries. It's also about party resources and even about whether Florida will be a competitive state in the 2008 general election.

Today, Sen. Bill Nelson, who rarely wades into these internecine debates, fired a shot in the DNC's direction. He co-signed a letter to DNC chairman Howard Dean threatening to ask the government to decide whether the DNC's decision amounts to a violation of voting rights rules. Within the Democratic Party, that's a really aggressive charge to make.

"If the Democratic national committee sanctions Florida, then some of us on the Florida congressional delegation may ask an appropriate legal venue can determine whether a political party's rules supercede a person's right to vote and have that vote count," Nelson said on a conference call this morning. "We're going to fight to have Florida Democrats' votes counted."

Nelson implicitly compared the DNC's actions to the Democrats' version of what transpired in Florida, circa 2000. He called ironic the DNC's launch two weeks ago of a national voter protection program.

DNC officials privately dismiss the charges as absurd. They say they gave the state party numerous options to comply with its rules; the state party claims that the DNC's alternatives -- including a Feb. 9 caucus -- were -- absurd.

Some Florida Democrats say they feel bullied by the national party and believe that the national party has written off the idea that Florida would be a swing state in the 2008 general election. The state party was in debt when chair Karen Thurman took over. Thanks to an infusion of resources from the DNC and Thurman's own efforts, the party now functions.

But it's still a shade of the Republican Party operation in the state. Thurman and other Florida Democrats worry that the DNC will further penalize the state and that the lack of attention will demoralize activists and major state party donors.

Privately, Florida Democrats concede that Democrats also voted to move the primary to Jan. 29 -- but Florida Republicans smartly attached it to a bill requiring voter-verified paper trails for voting machines. The Dems blame (or credit) the smart strategy of GOP House speaker Marco Rubio, an extremely ambitious pol who has gubernatorial (and perhaps) presidential aspirations one day.

The DNC's rules and bylaws committee meets in Washington tomorrow. Democratic officials wonder why Florida complains so harshly today when the penalties the DNC could impose were clear to the party for months.

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