Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Democrats Make Time for Early Politicking; Several Possible Presidential Contenders Are on Hand for Party's State Convention

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Democrats Make Time for Early Politicking; Several Possible Presidential Contenders Are on Hand for Party's State Convention

Article excerpt

Byline: DAVID DECAMP

LAKE BUENA VISTA -- Far from the thoughts of most voters, some of the potential Democratic contenders for president rubbed shoulders Saturday with Florida Democrats, a sign it's never too early for politicking.

Former vice presidential candidate John Edwards, Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack and Gov. Mark Warner of Virginia were featured guests at the Florida Democratic Party's annual conference, which attracted 3,000.

The three Democratic leaders were given ballroom speaking assignments this weekend in front of possible supporters in one of the nation's biggest battlegrounds. Each has a political action committee to raise money to help 2006 candidates and to build their own networks for 2008.

U.S. Sen. Barack Obama, the dinner speaker Saturday night, is viewed by many Democrats as one of the star hopefuls.

Democrats nationwide exuded optimism after last month's successes in state elections and continuing low job-approval ratings for President Bush, and it rubbed off on Florida party members. While still behind Republicans in fund-raising, state-level officeholders and, perhaps, organization, Democratic Party leaders said they have begun to improve their finances and planning for the governor's race next year.

"Nowadays, it's almost a necessity," Carolyn Cornwell, 67, a delegate from Jacksonville, said of the early campaigns.

Cornwell said she believes the big-name speakers attended because Florida's size and open seat for governor next year created a sense that change is needed. She favors Warner because of his success in Republican-leaning Virginia.

"I have a very simple formula for us. How about we stand up with strength and backbone and passion for what we believe in?" Edwards, who is helping raise money for U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, told a packed audience.

There was little talk among the leading Democrats of running in 2008, although it was an unkept secret in the ballrooms inside the Disney World Resort. …

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