Posted: Oct. 3, 2007


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

Wyoming is the latest state that would like to think of itself as the maker of presidents. The Republican Party there wants to butt in line to hold its caucuses ahead of Iowa, where the first votes customarily are cast.

Contributing Dick Cheney to presidential politics is apparently not enough for Wyoming. Maybe it is to be expected that a state, as tediously square as a crew cut, should crave glamour, determining to push forward and further compact the calendar of primaries and caucuses.

Never mind that the voting schedule is already so front-loaded that the only thing more politically top-heavy is the Democratic gubernatorial primary between John Carney and Jack Markell.

Wyoming is hardly alone in trying to shove itself along in the presidential queue to avoid presidential irrelevancy. By the end of Feb. 5, when Delaware votes in a giant cluster that also includes New York and California, the polling will be over in more than half the states.

This unruly scrum leaves no time for voter's remorse. The national parties do not like it -- the Republicans are threatening to slash Wyoming's delegate count, just as the Democrats are insisting they will do the same to Florida and Michigan as they rush toward the front -- but the states do not care. They want presidential attention.

Within the Delaware Republican Party, the squished schedule is being observed with a certain amount of wry frustration. Seven years ago in 2000, it tried to save the country from itself, and it is about to try again.

At that time Richard A. Forsten, counsel to the state Republicans, was encouraged by Basil R. Battaglia, then the state chair, to take a crack at unpacking the states. The result was a solution that came to be known as the Delaware Plan.

In this proposal, all of the states would be divided by reverse population order into four pods, with the smallest like Delaware (and Wyoming, too) in the first pod and the largest like California and Texas in the last.

The states would hold their primaries and caucuses by pod, with each pod voting three or four weeks apart. It would be optional under the Delaware Plan whether New Hampshire and Iowa, the traditional first states, would be allowed to vote ahead of the pods or else be folded into them.

Mathematically there would be no way for a candidate to gather enough delegates for the nomination until every pod voted. Every state would have a say, every region of the country would matter, and every voter would count.

"When we first proposed the Delaware Plan seven years ago, we saw problems with the schedule as it then existed as being too compressed, and the situation has only gotten more dire since then," Forsten said.

The plan nearly was adopted by the Republicans at their national convention in 2000 in Philadelphia, until it was sabotaged by the forces of George W. Bush, who was about to become the nominee. He liked the process that got him there just fine.

"The day before we were ready to go to the floor for the vote, we had the rug pulled out from under us," Battaglia said.

Bush's days are numbered now, and the state Republicans are ready to try again with the Delaware Plan. It is a proposal that is its own best argument -- "It's fair to everybody," Battaglia said -- and it means the country could be bullied no more by the likes of Wyoming.

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Nothing says "legacy" in Delaware politics like Beau Biden, the Democratic attorney general who joins his father-the-senator in holding two of the nine statewide offices.

Political relations are as Delawarean as muskrat in winter. The state sent five Democratic Bayards to the U.S. Senate and elected Republican du Ponts as senator and governor. It put Democrats Herman Holloway Sr. and Jr. in the General Assembly simultaneously and was content to have Republican Mary Jornlin as the state treasurer while her husband Francis was a state legislator.

Now another family would like to give it a try. Democrat Brad Bennett has filed to run against state Rep. Donna Stone, a Dover Republican from a Kent County district that was represented before her by Bennett's father Ed, who gave it up in 1994 to try unsuccessfully for a state Senate seat.

Brad Bennett, 42, runs Bennett Security, which he took over from his father. He lives in Dover with his wife Samantha, and they have two children, an 11-year-old daughter and a nine-year-old son.

Ed Bennett is not Brad Bennett's only family tie in politics. His father-in-law is Brian Bushweller, a Democrat who retired Wednesday as the state director for U.S. Sen. Tom Carper and is making his second run in 2008 against state Sen. John Still, a Dover Republican.

The districts sought by Bennett and Bushweller overlap. They look forward to campaigning together with an eye on serving together.

"We certainly intend to work together for the benefit of our grandchildren and his children," Bushweller quipped.