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Fla Dem primary saga, chapter XXXVIII

The major presidential candidates may be able to attend a January debate hosted by Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton despite a self-imposed ban on campaigning in Florida.

In a conference call with about 60 activists, the state party's executive director, Leonard Joseph, said the nationally televised debate may fall under an exception in party rules that allow only four smaller states to vote before Feb. 5. A new state law moved up the primary to Jan. 29.

Joseph added that one of the lesser-known candidates, Mike Gravel, is planning to attend a "peace rally'' in Orlando on Oct. 27 and to talk about it at the state party's convention that day. The major candidates are not expected to attend.

"Each of the candidates will have to create their own standards as to what this pledge allows them to do,'' Joseph said.

The four states seeking to protect their position at the front of the calendar pressured the candidates to sign a "pledge''  not to campaign in Florida, except to raise money. Democratic candidate John Edwards is collecting checks in Boca Raton tomorrow but will not make any public appearances.

Steve Geller of Hallandale Beach, who serves as the Democratic leader in the Florida Senate, accused the four early states states of "conspiring together, making up the rules.''

The telecommunications huddle came as a Democratic National Committee deadline loomed. As of 5 p.m., Florida will be officially excluded from the 2008 convention. That means candidates cannot earn any Florida delegates toward securing the nomination, even if they win the most votes.

Nevertheless, Florida Democratic Party Chairman Karen Thurman maintained that the results in the fourth largest state will influence the race.

"I believe this is not a beauty contest or a straw poll,'' Thurman said. "By having maximum participation, calling this anything other than an election is being disrespectful and misleading.''

Some activists had urged the party to organize an alternative election that complied with DNC rules, but Thurman has said most voters would be unlikely to participate in anything other than the state-run primary on Jan. 29.