Posted: March 24, 2003
IT'S BAD BEING SECOND
By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer
Delaware, the First State, has shown itself
not so good at being second.
The state is on the verge of giving up a dream
of a shining, second-in-the-nation presidential primary, which was
supposed to make it the destination of choice for candidates looking
for momentum or a comeback after the traditional leadoff primary in
It was a giddy political fantasy, this idea of
drawing household names like Clinton and Gore, Bush and McCain to
living rooms, diners and twilight rallies from Claymont to Delmar,
but it has popped.
New Hampshire saw to that. The state that
starts the presidential campaign did not want the state that started
the nation holding a primary only four days later. New Hampshire
insisted on a full week to ensure a special splendor for the
election that has made it the center of the political universe every
four years since the tradition began in 1952.
New Hampshire warned Delaware to back off --
or else. Delaware wondered, or else what? In the winter of 1996, it
scheduled a vote for a Saturday, the customary primary day here, on
Feb. 24, just after New Hampshire's first-in-the-nation primary on
Tuesday, Feb. 20, and found out what.
New Hampshire isn't called the Granite State
It slapped a political embargo on Delaware's
primary and warned the candidates not even to think about
campaigning here. The New England state had so much clout that the
top-tier candidates complied. At that point, nobody except Bill
Clinton had been elected president under the modern primary system
without winning there.
The Delaware dream died. Eight years and two
feeble primaries later, the state is ready to salute New Hampshire
and drop back in the presidential pack. Legislation is expected to
be introduced as early as this week with bipartisan backing to
switch the primary date to a week after New Hampshire's.
While the presidential calendar for 2004 is
still fluid, it appears that New Hampshire would vote on Tuesday,
Jan. 27, with Delaware voting on Tuesday, Feb. 3, along with South
Carolina, Arizona, Missouri and perhaps Virginia.
Iowa still would go early on Monday, Jan. 19,
with its presidential caucuses, which are small gatherings of voters
choosing candidates under complex rules. New Hampshire doesn't care
Both the Democratic and Republican state
chairmen support the primary bill, as does Gov. Ruth Ann Minner, a
"The experiment we tried was just a complete
and utter failure. We need to move on and make it work," said
Richard H. Bayard, the Democratic state chairman. "People are so
frustrated with it that the current posture on it, to change it, has
percolated up from the bottom."
"We do need to move it," said J. Everett Moore
Jr., the Republican state chairman. "There's no reason to keep going
at loggerheads with New Hampshire."
State Sen. Robert I. Marshall, the Wilmington
Democrat who was the prime sponsor of the law creating the
second-in-the-nation primary, plans to introduce the bill that would
move the date. House Majority Leader Wayne A. Smith, a Brandywine
Hundred Republican, says he will co-sponsor it. The Democrats are
the majority in the Senate, the Republicans in the House of
Rather than hard feelings on Delaware's part,
there appears to be an understanding of New Hampshire that comes
from one small state to another with a self-identity of being first,
even if New Hampshire's tradition is a half-century old to
Delaware's two centuries-plus.
"This is not a First State thing," Smith said.
"New Hampshire has the precedent. Our objective should be more
practical than prideful."
In New Hampshire, Secretary of State William
M. Gardner welcomed the truce. He is charged with conducting the
first-in-the-nation primary and protecting it for the reputation and
revenue it brings. "Finally we'd be on good terms," he said.
Gardner has been the secretary of state there
since 1976. He has spent all of that time -- and four years earlier
as a legislator -- fending off other states that want to supercede
New Hampshire with primaries held earlier or at the same time (or
four days later), but it has yet to be accomplished. This time
around he is working to hold off Michigan.
"We're still there," Gardner said, crediting
New Hampshire's stature in large part to its town-meeting mentality
of demanding that candidates account for themselves and winnowing
"People here are not intimidated by the
candidates. They ask the darnedest questions," Gardner said.
Joseph A. Pika, a University of Delaware
political science professor who wrote The Presidential Contest,
was not surprised to see New Hampshire prevail because of what it
has at stake.
"There's still this kind of mystique, and they
continue to build it up," he said. "There have been generations of
New Hampshirites who cherish this special role. It's in the blood of
It is unclear whether Delaware will have any
impact on the presidential scene with a new primary date, although
New Hampshire's record of picking presidents
is a little smudged of late because of Clinton and George Bush.
Unlike their predecessors in the modern primary era, both of them
became president without winning in New Hampshire, Clinton in the
1992 Democratic primary and Bush in the 2000 Republican primary.
As for Delaware, it could be the first of the
mid-Atlantic states to hold a primary in 2004, and it does have that
reputation of being somewhat representative of the country as a
whole. That comes from voting for the victorious presidential
candidate for every election from 1952 until 2000, when there but
for Florida, it would have.
As Pika put it, a little mischievously, "We've
gone with the winner of the popular vote, so the bellwether role
isn't gone yet."
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