Posted: Aug.29, 2003
FOR LIEBERMAN, AT LEAST
IT'S A START
By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer
This is not New Hampshire. Millard Roberts, a
janitor at the Greyhound Bus Terminal, looked toward the Wilmington
Riverfront on Friday afternoon to see a police presence and some
television cameras surrounding a knot of people and had no idea what
"I wondered, what's going on? There must be a
drug bust," he said.
Roberts would have known right away if he
lived in New Hampshire, the state that hosts the first presidential
primary and has made a cottage industry out of it. Cops, cameras and
crowds mean a candidate sighting -- in this case, U.S. Sen. Joseph
I. Lieberman, the Connecticut Democrat and 2000 vice presidential
candidate, who became the first contender to campaign here for the
2004 primary scheduled for next Feb. 3.
If Roberts did not know what to make of
Lieberman, the candidate knew what to make of Roberts and signed an
autograph for him. Lieberman seemed undaunted by the prospect that
he may have to educate Delaware about the primary one voter at a
It may take that. Lieberman's visit here
showed that Delaware is not exactly up to speed when it comes to the
presidential primaries that have yet to become a staple of local
Lieberman probably saw more reporters than
voters. His trip was scheduled for getaway day before the Labor Day
weekend, when conventional wisdom says the public does not pay
attention to politics. The News Journal buried word of his arrival
on page B-6 for the sort of campaign kickoff that would have caused
palpitations in New Hampshire.
Lieberman came in to collect key endorsements
from U.S. Sen. Thomas R. Carper, Lt. Gov. John C. Carney Jr. and
Treasurer Jack A. Markell. He did, but there was a hitch here, too.
Carney was the only one who delivered his support in person.
It was known in advance that Markell would be
traveling, but Carper was a no-show because of plane trouble in
Ohio, where he had gone for a fund-raiser to take advantage of his
ties as an Ohio State University graduate.
"I'm just glad that one of the three of them
is on the ground," Lieberman quipped.
Still, he did get the endorsements -- a coup
amounting to three out of the five statewide Democratic officials.
Of the others, U.S. Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. has said he is leaning
toward backing U.S. Sen. John F. Kerry of Massachusetts, and Gov.
Ruth Ann Minner is staying out of it for now.
Lieberman said nice things about Biden and
Minner, anyway. Whether he did it because it was his nature or
because he was briefed, it meshed with the genial politics that
voters expect here. He thanked Biden for not running for president
-- "now I don't have to throw away all those 'Joe 2004' bumper
stickers" -- and described himself and Minner as "kindred spirits."
Mostly what was important was that Lieberman
came. The last time a presidential candidate really courted
Delaware, it was Steve Forbes, running for the 1996 Republican
nomination, and he won. It gave him a little bit of a bounce,
although nothing like what he needed to stop the party from going
with Bob Dole, as it eventually did.
This was Lieberman's second visit to Delaware
in the campaign cycle, following an appearance in December at a
fund-raiser for Minner. He also was the first candidate to arrive
since Biden announced on Aug. 11 he would not run for president,
opening up the state to the nine-candidate Democratic field wanting
to deny a second term to Republican President George W. Bush.
"I intend to come back here a lot," Lieberman
said. "I'm here to say to the people of Delaware, you really count."
The candidate explained that Delaware is part
of his campaign strategy. The state is one of seven scheduled to
vote on Feb. 3, after the Iowa caucuses on Jan. 19 and the New
Hampshire primary on Jan. 27 lead off the presidential selection
Lieberman said he targeted Feb. 3 as his
"breakthrough day" because of the expectations of success for
Missouri Rep. Richard A. Gephardt in Iowa and Kerry in New
Hampshire. This was before former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean surged to
formidability in the early states.
Delaware has not had much experience with
presidential primaries. Through 1992, it held caucuses, and then it
ran into trouble with New Hampshire when it tried primaries.
Delaware wanted to hold its election on the
Saturday following the Tuesday that New Hampshire voted, but New
Hampshire was so protective of its signature status that it insisted
upon every other state waiting at least a week. It demanded that the
candidates boycott Delaware in 1996 and 2000 and had the clout to
make most of them listen.
Delaware faced reality and gave New Hampshire
its seven days in the sun. Now that the candidates can come here,
the state has to figure out how to make them want to come.
If there is a learning curve for Delaware,
there is also one for the candidates. Lieberman already showed signs
of getting the hang of it. When he came here in December, he greeted
the state treasurer as Jack "Markle."
Now with the endorsement, Lieberman is clear
as a bell when he says "Markell."
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