Donald Lambro

But that would impose a huge financial burden on the party. While the state's taxpayers would pick up the costs of the Republican-engineered Jan. 29 primary, the state Democratic Party would have to pick up the estimated $6 million tab for the caucuses.

Florida Democrats, however, believe they can and will find a way around the state's Jan. 29 primary conundrum.

"The communication lines between our state and the national party are very good. There have been constant discussions. I'm optimistic things will be worked out," said DNC executive committee member Mitch Ceasar, who chairs the Broward County Democratic Party.

But the presidential front-runners have made it clear that no matter when the Florida primary is held, they will campaign there, even it means defying party rules that forbid such activity before Feb. 5.

"We don't really have a whole lot of say about how the primary schedule is set. All we can do is campaign wherever there is a primary or caucus, and that is what we intend to do," said a representative for Sen. Hillary Clinton's campaign.

"The DNC and the Florida state party will arbitrate this, and we will compete on the final field vigorously," said Bill Burton, chief spokesman for Sen. Barack Obama.

Still, Democrats smell a rat in the Republican legislature's decision to move their primary into January, forcing Democrats into retreating on the primary calendar, while the Republican candidates, presumably, would have the Florida primary stage all to themselves.

"Don't blame the Democrats for an act of the Republican-controlled Florida legislature. The Republicans may have been trying to do a good thing, or they might have been trying to be Machiavellian," Ceasar told me.

"Historically, we are in politically uncharted territory between the states and the national parties," he said.

But Florida's decision could have even wider repercussions on the shape of the primary calendar, triggering a domino effect among the other January state contestants. South Carolina could move its Jan. 29 primary up earlier, which, in turn, would force New Hampshire to preserve its first-in-the-nation primary by holding it right after the new year.

Florida Republicans seem prepared to fight for their right to choose their primary date right up to the convention. "Look for some big fights over seating its delegates," a Republican official told me.


Donald Lambro

Donald Lambro is chief political correspondent for The Washington Times.