The DNC rules stipulate that states that have not been granted a special waiver must schedule presidential nominating contests after Feb. 5.
"Rules are rules," said DNC member Garry S. Shays, of California, at the meeting. "California abided by them, and Florida should, as well. To ignore them would open the door to chaos."
Donna Brazile, a member of the rules committee who argued for a swift and harsh punishment for Florida, said states' desire to be more relevant in the nominating process does not excuse violations of rules intended to make the system fair for everyone.
"I understand how states crave to be first. I understand that they're envious of the role that Iowa and New Hampshire have traditionally played," said Brazile, who was Al Gore's campaign manager in 2000. "The truth is, we had a process. . . . We're going to back these rules."
Though the DNC's action was well-telegraphed, it came after emotional pleas from state party leaders, who blamed the initial selection of the date on Republicans who control the legislature. Thurman said she and her staff spent "countless hours" trying to persuade the legislature to pick another date.
Jon Ausman, a DNC member from Florida, begged his colleagues to make an exception for Florida because of those efforts.
"We're asking you for mercy, not judgment," Ausman said.
The rules committee was largely unmoved; only one member -- Florida's Allan Katz -- voted against imposing the sanctions.
Under the caucus alternative proposed yesterday, voters could still go to the polls on Jan. 29 to express their preferences for a presidential nominee, but the results would be ceremonial, much like the results of the Republican straw poll held in Ames, Iowa, this month.
"It's essentially a beauty contest. . . . There are no delegates now," said Alexis Herman, co-chair of the rules committee.
Thurman and other state leaders said there are several problems with the caucus suggestion.
She said a caucus could cost the state party as much as $8 million -- money she said the party and its benefactors do not have. She said a caucus in a state the size of Florida would be impractical and would have the effect of allowing far fewer people to participate.
State party officials also said they prefer to keep the official voting on Jan. 29 because a property tax initiative they hope to defeat will be on the ballot that day. Turning the Democratic presidential primary into a meaningless event would probably mean lower turnout among the party's faithful and make it harder to defeat the initiative, they said.
"Defeating a horrible referendum on Jan. 29 . . . is a top priority for every constituent group I am aware of," said Terrie Brady, a DNC member and former chair of the Florida state party.