Posted: July 28, 2003



By Celia Cohen

Grapevine Political Writer

The Democrats have so many presidential candidates for 2004 that the roster looks like a baseball lineup. The Republicans would just as soon keep the president that the country has.

Not very surprisingly, the Delaware Democrats figure they had better hold a primary next year, while their Republican counterparts have decided not to bother.

Under state law, there is a deadline Friday for the parties to notify the election commissioner whether they want to have a primary on Tuesday, Feb. 3, or use some other means for settling on the presidential preference of their delegates for the national nominating conventions.

The Republicans have bowed out. Nothing against primaries, they just don't need one with George W. Bush going for a second term.

"It's a decision we think is a very practical one," said Terry A. Strine, the Republican state chairman. "It made no sense to schedule a primary under the circumstances. We think the party's clear on who our nominee is going to be, but we certainly will need one in '08."

The Republicans expect their preparation for the national convention, set for next summer in New York City, to be accomplished by electing delegates at their state convention next spring, Strine said.

The Democrats are planning on a primary to sort out their field of nine -- former Illinois Sen. Carol Moseley Braun, former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, North Carolina Sen. John R. Edwards, Missouri Rep. Richard A. Gephardt, Florida Sen. D. Robert Graham, Massachusetts Sen. John F. Kerry, Ohio Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich, Connecticut Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman and the Rev. Alfred C. Sharpton of New York.

Edwards and Lieberman have made low-key appearances here. Of course, there is still the possibility the field could expand to include a candidate who lives here.

The 2004 presidential cycle could be the one that finally establishes the model for the Delaware primary after two unsatisfactory experiments in 1996 and 2000. Before that, Delaware held presidential caucuses, like Iowa.

The primary was conceived to pick up a little presidential glory as the second in the nation, behind New Hampshire's traditional leadoff election, but that state did everything it could to squelch Delaware's effort because it was scheduled only four days after its own. New Hampshire wanted a week to itself, and it had the clout to muscle most candidates into ignoring Delaware's primary.

The state's political leadership finally accepted reality. A new law was enacted this year to back off the primary date. The presidential calendar is expected to roll out with Iowa on Monday, Jan. 19, New Hampshire on Tuesday, Jan. 27, and Delaware on the following Tuesday, along with South Carolina, Arizona, Missouri and Virginia.

"We intend to go forward, in keeping with the statute change, with a real working primary with live candidates and engaged voters -- which is what we wanted all along," said Richard H. Bayard, the Democratic state chairman.

"Instead of notifying the candidates they have been forced onto the ballot, they may want to be here."

Once the state Democrats' presidential preferences have been set by the primary, the party will hold a state convention to elect delegates to the national convention, scheduled for next summer in Boston.

Having a primary for one party, instead of two, won't make a difference in the cost, according to Frank B. Calio, the state elections commissioner. While the expenses haven't been estimated yet, the primary in the past has cost about $1 million, he said.

The primary is about six months away, but there has been little sense of it yet, and Delaware could miss this show again if U.S. Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. gets in to commandeer the local ballot.

"He'll win," Bayard said.