Posted: Jan. 24, 2008


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

With no mo' Joe consuming the presidential oxygen, other campaigns are scrambling in here.

It would be nice to say the candidates are the ones scrambling in, but Delaware might as well be Mozambique for all the chance it apparently has to see them before the presidential primary Feb. 5 on Super Duper Tuesday.

Hillary Clinton spent part of Wednesday in Philadelphia without finding so much as 20 minutes to make it across the line to the Dunkin' Donuts on Naamans Road. If she had, it probably would have locked up the state for her.

There is no mystery to the collective absence. More than 20 states are voting from coast to coast on Super Duper Tuesday, California and New York among them. On the Republican side, Delaware's 18 delegates are the smallest prize of the day. On the Democratic side, the state's 23 delegates eke by Alaska in size, but not by much.

If Delaware is to have any presidential activity, it will have to make its own.

The Republicans are taking a crack at it Friday evening when they conduct a straw poll at a party dinner. Straw polls usually are as reliable as a Ouija board, but this one is restricted to the members of the Republican State Committee, the party's governing body, so it could show how the state is trending if enough of them vote.

After concentrating on the string of early contests, going state by state through Iowa, New Hampshire, Michigan, Nevada and South Carolina, the presidential campaigns are acting with all of the belated alarm of students who realize they forgot they have a final exam in Delaware, too.

For the Democratic candidates, it was probably unavoidable. Out of professional courtesy, they left Delaware to Joe Biden until the state's favorite son folded his campaign after his next-to-last place finish in Iowa.

Barack Obama's operation rushed to open an office Saturday in Wilmington and raced in staff. It was supposed to start airing television spots here on Thursday, but it was happening so fast, the plans seemed a little vague.

Anyone who sees the Obama advertising may want to report it to the campaign, because no one there could say when or where it would be broadcast.

Obama has a number of notable endorsements going for him, too. No matter who wins the Democratic nominations for governor and lieutenant governor, he has them -- Lt. Gov. John Carney and Treasurer Jack Markell, the rivals for governor, and Insurance Commissioner Matt Denn and Wilmington Council President Ted Blunt, the competitors for lieutenant governor.

The Clinton campaign also is on its way into Delaware with a headquarters in the works. In the meantime, it popped up Tuesday with a steering committee, its members including Gov. Ruth Ann Minner, state Sens. Patti Blevins, Margaret Rose Henry and Karen Peterson, state Reps. Melanie George Marshall and Diana McWilliams, and National Committeeman Rhett Ruggerio and National Committeewoman Karen Valentine.

There has been no sign of organizing from John Edwards, the third Democrat still standing. Not even from his fellow lawyers. Not even from hair stylists.

The Republicans are cranking up, too, although some have less work to do than others after taking the time last year to lay the groundwork.

Rudy Giuliani has the grandfather of Delaware campaigns. While he bypassed Iowa, New Hampshire, Michigan, Nevada and South Carolina to hang it all on Florida on Tuesday, he has had a headquarters and a dedicated staffer in Wilmington for months. Go figure.

Giuliani's backing here is solid, too, with people like Louis Freeh, the FBI ex-director, Frank Ursomarso, the car dealer who worked in the White House for Nixon, Ford and Reagan, and National Committeewoman Priscilla Rakestraw.

John McCain's trajectory in Delaware followed the fortunes of his national campaign. He had an early surge of key endorsements from Congressman Mike Castle, state House Speaker Terry Spence and National Committeeman John Matlusky, and then all but vanished, until he righted himself to rejoin the ranks of the frontrunners.

McCain's organization resurfaced here Thursday with the names of legislators who were joining Spence with their endorsements -- Reps. Joe Miro, Dan Short, Pam Thornburg and Bob Valihura.

Mitt Romney's operation announced its presence two weeks ago with the creation of a steering committee chaired by state Auditor Tom Wagner. In the trademark seat-of-the-pants style of Mike Huckabee's campaign, his supporters announced themselves, led by Sussex County Councilman Vance Phillips, who is also the Republicans' state vice chair.

Delaware holds a "closed" primary, meaning that only Democrats can vote in the Democratic contest, only Republicans can vote in the Republican contest, and everybody else can stay home.

Because of an early filing deadline for the candidates, some who have dropped out still will be listed on the ballot.

Biden will be one of them and probably will get some votes, even though there really is no mojo.