Posted: Nov. 20, 2003
PRESIDENTIAL PRIMARY EXCURSIONS &
By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer
With about two months to go before the
presidential primary here, it appears to be dawning on Delaware
Democrats that they really could have a say in their party's choice
for the nomination.
Campaigns are stirring here and there by
assigning operatives to the state. Endorsements are trickling in,
and volunteers are choosing up sides.
State Treasurer Jack A. Markell, who is
backing U.S. Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut, has become
invested enough in his candidate to take a van with six Delawareans
to New Hampshire last weekend to help out with some door-to-door
Wesley K. Clark, the retired general from
Arkansas, is on the move here. His campaign announced endorsements
Thursday from state Sen. David P. Sokola, former Democratic State
Chairman Samuel L. Shipley and Charles J. Durante, the state party's
Clark's campaign also has sent in John C.
Oldfield from its headquarters in Little Rock to set up an
organization, joining Lieberman as the only other candidate with a
staff member to date. The campaign expects to hold a state tour
Monday and Tuesday as part of a national "Race for America" drive --
without the candidate, although he is expected eventually.
There also are indications that U.S. Rep.
Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri will establish a campaign presence
in January. Volunteers for former Gov. Howard B. Dean of Vermont
also have had meetings.
Put it all together with the showings of some
of the candidates themselves, and it starts to look like a real live
primary. Of the nine-member Democratic field, Lieberman has been
here for public appearances, as has the Rev. Alfred C. "Al" Sharpton of
New York, and U.S. Sen. John R. Edwards stopped by for a private
"I'm pleased at the response we're hearing
we're going to get. It's gratifying that people recognize Delaware
as a microcosm and often a bellwether," said Democratic State
Chairman Richard H. Bayard.
"I hope we get a lot of presidential
candidates here, although it will never be as much as we'd like."
To be sure, it's not New Hampshire, the state
that holds the glittery first-in-the-nation primary, but it's a
start for a state that has struggled to get its own election up and
Delaware tried it in 1996 and 2000, only to be
thwarted by New Hampshire, which objected because Delaware wanted to
hold a second-in-the-nation primary four days later. Insisting on a
week before any other state voted, New Hampshire slapped a candidate
boycott on Delaware and had the clout to make it stick. This time
around Delaware faced reality and gave New Hampshire its weeklong
The primary here is set for Tuesday, Feb. 3,
the same day that voters go to the polls in Arizona, Missouri, New
Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma and South Carolina. Only Delaware
Democrats will be voting. Republicans are skipping it because of the
certainty of re-nominating President George W. Bush for a second
Delaware Republicans are setting up a campaign
framework, however. U.S. Rep. Michael N. Castle, the party's most
prominent officeholder, is the chairman. There also has been a
fund-raising effort, highlighted by first lady Laura Bush's visit
earlier this month for a lunch at the Westover Hills home of MBNA
President Charles M. Cawley.
For now, Lieberman's campaign is setting the
pace. Lieberman, the 2000 vice presidential nominee, has the most
personal appearances in this election cycle with three and the most
high-profile endorsements with U.S. Sen. Thomas R. Carper, Lt. Gov.
John C. Carney Jr. and Markell. The campaign is bringing in Hadassah
Lieberman, the candidate's wife, for her second visit this month on Monday.
Lieberman's strategy has worked here before.
In defiance of the New Hampshire quarantine in 1996, Republican
Steve Forbes courted Delaware and was rewarded with a victory.
For a real taste of what a primary can be,
Markell made a pilgrimage to New Hampshire and came away impressed
with the vigor of the operations there, hundreds of volunteers
hustling for votes. He knocked on doors for Lieberman and
encountered something no Delaware politician ever has contemplated
-- a winter campaign.
"It wasn't awful, but it was cold enough. I
can't imagine what it's going to be like in late December, early
January," Markell said.
It is unclear whether the experience left
Markell with the presidential bug himself. Asked about it, he
resorted to one of the best dodges there is. He laughed and let it
go at that.
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