Posted: Dec. 8, 2003
DEMOCRATS FOCUS ON BATTLEGROUND
By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer
Terry McAuliffe, the Democrats' national
chairman, mingled Monday morning during an open house at his party's
state headquarters near New Castle, his visit coming about a month
and a half after the Delaware Republicans held a dinner with Edward
W. Gillespie, their national chairman.
If there was any doubt that the 2004
presidential election is going to be as hard a fight as the last
one, with Delaware in the thick of it, those tandem appearances
should dispel it. When the two top party officials in the country
pay attention to a state this size, it means they are doing the
equivalent of digging for change in the sofa cushions.
"You are on our target map," McAuliffe told
about 50 Democratic officeholders, party officials, volunteers and
labor union members gathered at the headquarters in East Corporate
McAuliffe was so determined to squeeze
electoral votes out of Delaware that he said he wanted four of them.
That was a mistake. Delaware has only three electoral votes, the
minimum for states with such small populations that they are
entitled to only one member in the U.S. House of Representatives.
McAuliffe chalked up his overestimate to an
error in his briefing book, but his listeners hardly minded. They
laughed and seemed to wish he were right. "We'll take it," someone
Delaware voted Democratic for Al Gore Jr. in
2000, landing in the column of the presidential candidate who
carried the popular vote but not in the column of the candidate who
went to the White House, the first time it missed since 1948. George
W. Bush claimed the presidency for the Republicans after the Florida
"long count" by collecting 271 electoral votes -- one more than a
McAuliffe predicted the 2004 election could be
that close again. "I think it could be one or two electoral votes'
difference," he said.
So McAuliffe was here, part of a strategy for
him to concentrate his efforts on 20 target states, those that gave
Gore 45 percent to 55 percent of their vote. Gore won 55 percent in
Delaware -- leading to the conclusion the state would be in play in
2004, as it generally has been as it hopscotched from winner to
Although Delaware has been leaning Democratic
of late, voting not only for Gore but for a Democratic governor and
two Democratic senators, McAuliffe was not taking anything for
granted. "You are a true swing state," he said.
McAuliffe's Delaware appearance was his second
since he became chairman in 2001. He stopped here in February to
fulfill a promise to visit all 50 states, but it was largely a
private affair at the Wilmington Club for officeholders and party
officials. State Democratic Chairman Richard H. Bayard said the
format was reconsidered afterwards, producing this open house.
Lt. Gov. John C. Carney Jr. introduced
McAuliffe. State Treasurer Jack A. Markell also attended, as did
Matthew P. Denn, the candidate for insurance commissioner. There
also were campaign officials or volunteers on hand for Joseph
I. Lieberman, Wesley K. Clark and Howard B. Dean, three of the
Democrats' nine presidential candidates, some of them chatting
together quite amicably.
New Castle County Council President
Christopher A. Coons, who is running for county executive, was in
the crowd, but Sherry L. Freebery, the county's chief administrative
officer who also plans to run, was not.
McAuliffe pitched hard for party unity once
the Democrats settle on their nominee, whom he predicted would be in
place by March 10. The selection begins with the Iowa caucuses on
Jan. 19 and the New Hampshire primary on Jan. 27, followed by voting
in seven other states, including Delaware, on Feb. 3.
"We need a nominee early. We need to be
unified early," McAuliffe said. "We can't afford to have four more
years of this president. . . . We're going to light up on March 11,
and we're not going down until Nov. 2."
McAuliffe said the Democrats would focus on
Bush's record on the economy and Iraq and steer clear of what are
called "wedge issues" -- those that divide and inflame -- such as
gun control, which he said was better left to the states.
"Guns, gays and God -- we're not going to let
them do it to us," McAuliffe said. "We're not going to let them
define us this time."
From Delaware, McAuliffe was off to
Philadelphia and then Maine, more stops in targeted states, on his
way to the University of New Hampshire in Durham for a Democratic
presidential debate on Tuesday.
Before departing, McAuliffe acknowledged a
special fondness for Delaware lingering from his youth -- something
about Dewey Beach and a lot of Budweiser beer.
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