Posted: Oct. 20, 2003


By Celia Cohen

Grapevine Political Writer

The Lieberman campaign in Delaware is beginning to look a lot like Carper.

U.S. Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, who seems to be trudging, instead of running, for president these days, is hoping to find traction here by linking himself to his fellow Democratic senator with a better record than anybody in connecting with the state's voters.

Lieberman has turned to Thomas R. Carper, who is unmatched with 11 statewide victories as treasurer, congressman, governor and senator, to be his Delaware chairman, and together they set off on a campaign swing Monday to see whether any of Carper's popularity and experience could rub off on Lieberman during stops in Wilmington and Dover.

"In Delaware, I just hope you judge me by the friends that I keep," Lieberman said.

"I think he would make a wonderful president," Carper said.

"I have always liked Tom Carper and admired his judgment," Lieberman quipped.

Lieberman needs Delaware. Despite his stature as his party's 2000 candidate for vice president, Lieberman found himself described Sunday by George Stephanopoulos, the political operative-turned-analyst, on ABC's "This Week" as "stuck in the middle of the pack" of the nine Democrats who want to take on President George W. Bush and the Republicans in 2004.

Lieberman revised his campaign strategy over the weekend, deciding to give up on Iowa's cumbersome caucuses, which kick off the presidential selection season on Jan. 19, and concentrate instead on the New Hampshire primary on Jan. 27 and the seven states, including Delaware, voting a week later on Feb. 3.

"Delaware is going to be a very important state for me," Lieberman said. "In the first two weeks, there are going to be nine states voting, and I don't think anybody on the Democratic side is going to compete in all nine states. . . . The important thing is to keep moving forward and win some states."

Lieberman's shift in strategy was mirrored by retired General Wesley K. Clark, another Democratic contender. James R. Soles, a political science professor emeritus from the University of Delaware, believes their thinking could be sound.

"It's a matter of resources. A caucus requires extraordinary organization. A big primary day coming up may be a better choice," Soles said. "The people in New Hampshire and Iowa may hate me for this, but a big primary day may overshadow them. The number of delegates at stake may be more important."

For now, Lieberman is the only candidate with even a rudimentary organization in Delaware. In addition to Carper's backing, he has endorsements from Lt. Gov. John C. Carney Jr. and Treasurer Jack A. Markell, both of whom accompanied him Monday along with Carper. Lieberman also has hired Larry Windley, who was an assistant secretary of state when Carper was governor, to be his state director.

In addition, Lieberman to date is the only candidate making multiple trips here -- a strategy that paid off for Republican Steve Forbes when he won the 1996 primary. Lieberman has been here three times since the beginning of the 2004 election cycle. The Rev. Albert C. Sharpton is the only other Democratic candidate to campaign here, although U.S. Sen. John R. Edwards of North Carolina did have a private fund-raiser in Delaware.

Carney thinks Lieberman's efforts will pay off. "You know Delaware politics," he said. "People want a chance to reach out and touch their elected officials. He's the kind of politician that will do well here with his personal style."

Lieberman's travels took him to a private breakfast with the Black Caucus, a group of the state's African-American elected officials, and to the Latin American Community Center in Wilmington, as well as to the Modern Maturity Center in Dover.

Lieberman saw perhaps 300 voters -- a contrast to a hasty trip he made here before Labor Day weekend, when he was the first candidate to arrive after U.S. Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. announced he would not run for president. Lieberman came in to pick up the endorsements from Carper, Carney and Markell but saw only a handful of people along the Wilmington Riverfront.

His visit Monday drew a three-sentence press release from Republican State Chairman Terry A. Strine: "Joe Lieberman and the Democrat candidates for president are running on a message of raising taxes like Walter Mondale did in 1984. The economy is rebounding, and imposing a massive tax increase, especially one that hits small business especially hard, is exactly the wrong medicine we need. Does Sen. Lieberman believe that increasing taxes on small businesses will create jobs?"

Lieberman spoke only briefly at the Latin American Community Center and the Modern Maturity Center, explaining why he was running for president.

"The promise of America is, no matter who you are or where you started, you ought to be able to go as far as your God-given talents. Under George Bush, that promise is slipping away," he said. "We've got an opportunity to make the American dream real again, and we're not going to do it without a change of leadership."

Lieberman, who was the first Jewish candidate on a national ticket, joked at the Latin American Community Center about a banner raised for him at another Latino gathering. "Viva chutzpah!" it said.

He moved easily through a day care center there, persuading four-year-old Ezequiel to play a drum for Carper. The boy did not need much persuading. "It sounds like another day in the Congress," Lieberman said.

At the Modern Maturity Center, he spoke about his support for a prescription drug program to a smattering of applause. "That's the promise -- prescription drugs for the elderly," he said.

While Lieberman looked at ease campaigning, Delaware voters for the most part seem baffled by this presidential primary business. Their experience with it has been limited since Delaware switched from a caucus state to a primary state in 1996, and it has yet to establish itself.

The first two tries were shabby affairs, with most candidates avoiding the state because of a New Hampshire-imposed boycott over scheduling. New Hampshire, which regards its leadoff primary as a state treasure, wanted all other states to wait a week after its vote, and Delaware tried to follow four days later. This year Delaware bowed to reality and gave New Hampshire its week.

Even this year, Delaware will not have a full-fledged primary because only the Democrats will be going to the polls. The Republicans opted out because the re-nomination of their ticket is a foregone conclusion.

In some cases voters have been left mystified. "I didn't even know they were coming. Joe Lieberman is here, right?" one man said at the Modern Maturity Center.

In other cases voters have been left starry-eyed. A woman at the senior center jumped in between Carper and Lieberman to have her picture taken.

This novelty for Delaware clearly was not for Lieberman's campaign aides, who have seen it all before. One of them could not resist an aside at the sight of the woman in the middle of the politicians.

"A senator sandwich," the aide said.