Palm Beach Democrats to hold huge event

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Palm Beach Democrats to hold huge event to mark disputed presidential election
By Brad Hahn Staff Writer

August 16, 2001

Palm Beach County Democrats plan to return a spotlight to the county at the center of the party's bitter loss of the White House. They say they'll mark the first anniversary of the closest presidential election in modern U.S. history in grand style.

Party leaders are working to line up big-name politicians and entertainers for a major fund-raising event set for Nov. 7 in the county that became synonymous with flubbed ballots and on-again, off-again recounts.

They would like 6,400 rallying Democrats to fill each seat at Mars Music Amphitheatre near Royal Palm Beach, reminding the nation of the election they say they won.

More importantly, they are looking to launch the 2002 election campaign season, in which the party hopes to knock off Gov. Jeb Bush.

"This is not a gripe session, this is nowhere near, `Let's air our woes,'" said Cathy Dubin, executive director of the Palm Beach County Democratic Party. "This is going to be a party."

With images of the 36-day recount saga still fresh in their minds, party leaders began laying the groundwork in June for an event that would move beyond an average fund-raiser.

They dubbed the occasion "The Road to Tallahassee starts here," and booked the amphitheater, one of the primary outdoor concert venues in the county, for the Election Day anniversary date. Then they drew up an invite list that extended well beyond the county's borders.

Vice presidential candidate Joe Lieberman has signed on for the event, and almost-president Al Gore has "penciled" it in on his schedule, Dubin said.

In addition, the party has contacted Politically Incorrect television host Bill Maher about playing emcee, and television president Martin Sheen, of NBC's West Wing, about making an appearance. Neither invitation has been accepted or rejected, she said.

U.S. Reps. Robert Wexler, D-Boca Raton, and Alcee Hastings, D-Miramar, have told the party they will attend, she said. So has Sen. Bill Nelson.

National attention

Also expected are candidates for the Democratic nomination for governor. Dubin said the hopefuls who plan to attend include U.S. Rep. Jim Davis of Tampa; state House Minority Leader Lois Frankel of West Palm Beach; state Sen. Daryl Jones of Miami; Tampa attorney Bill McBride; Pete Peterson, former U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam; and former U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno.

"It will get such national attention and everybody's focus will be on the state of Florida on that date," said Barry Epstein, a Boca Raton political consultant who is handling publicity for the event. "Every viable candidate will be there."

Daryl Duwe, spokesman for the Florida Republican Party, said that the event will send a different message than the forward-looking one that Democrats say they intend.

$10 to $100,000

"They've made it clear that they intend to make 2002 be about 2000," Duwe said. "The governor has made it clear that he intends 2002 to be about Florida and its future. Therein lies the contrast."

Ticket prices will start at $10 and could go as high as a $100,000 corporate sponsorship, Dubin said. Along with prime seating, the big money donors may receive extra perks.

Party leaders did not say how much they hope to raise. But they acknowledged they are depending on the occasion to fuel voter education and registration efforts for 2002.

The most recent party fund-raising reports -- which cover from January through June -- reveal the party has taken in $109,000 in contributions, compared with the GOP's total of $311,000.

Show of resolve

Mary McCarty, county GOP chairwoman, said, "What they do to find an angle to raise money is of no concern to me."

Dubin said more is at stake than dollars. What's most important, she said, is for the county's Democrats to show resolve at a time when the nation naturally would be checking in.

"This is going to be a national media event because Palm Beach County was ground zero in the last election," she said. "We will show everyone that we are together and we are ready to beat Jeb Bush."

Gore carried Palm Beach County by 116,000 votes. But Democrats have focused on 19,120 "overvotes" in which ballots were disqualified because people voted for more than one presidential ticket. Party leaders say a confusing ballot layout led to the high volume of errors. They also question whether 10,582 ballots discarded as "undervotes," -- in which no candidate was selected -- truly represented voter intent.

The Gore campaign counted on recounts in Palm Beach and other Democratic counties to gain enough votes to win the election.

Ultimately, the vice president lost Florida to George W. Bush by 537 votes.

Brad Hahn can be reached at bhahn@sun-sentinel.com or 561-832-2905. Copyright 2001, South Florida Sun-Sentinel