Posted: March 25, 2016
FRACTURED PRIMARY TALES
By Celia Cohen
Even in Delaware, a Republican can dream, right?
Even in Delaware, where the Republicans went 20 years between electing someone new to statewide office, and it was a state treasurer at that.
Even in Delaware, where the Republicans actually declared victory when they kept the Democrats to the majority in the state Senate, below the super-majority needed to pass tax hikes. Imagine a party celebrating it could call itself a super-minority. Yikes.
Not much sounds more far-fetched than Republicans dreaming big here. Unless it was Marco Rubio coming in third in the Republican presidential caucuses in Iowa and dreaming he was a winner.
Never mind. The Republicans are letting themselves dream they could be a contender to be important. Maybe not in the state, where they keep getting smoked by the Democrats, but in the country in their own party.
Two words. Sixteen delegates.
In about a month, Delaware gets its say about who should be the Republican and Democratic nominees for president when the state holds a primary on April 26, along with Pennsylvania, Maryland, Connecticut and Rhode Island.
The Republican primary here is winner-take-all. The Democratic primary is proportional. Both primaries are closed, meaning only Republicans can vote in the Republican primary and only Democrats can vote in the Democratic primary.
The Republicans here are dreaming of the ultimate scenario as their party sorts out the surviving candidacies of Ted Cruz, John Kasich and Donald Trump.
Suppose at their convention this summer in Cleveland, where it will take 1,237 delegates to secure the nomination, the vote comes up, oh, say, either 16 delegates short or 16 delegates over the top, and it can be traced to whether the candidates paid attention to Delaware and personally campaigned here or ignored the state and stayed away.
To make that point, the state Republican Party publicly invited the candidates to come, or possibly dared them not to, noting in a press release earlier this week, "The 2016 fractured primary places a premium on every delegate."
As Charlie Copeland, the Republican state chair, put it in a short interview, "I think the candidates would be foolish not to come here."
There is something to what Copeland says.
Delaware has held presidential primaries for the past 20 years. Before 1996, it was a caucus state. In the five primaries since, candidates shunned Delaware at their peril.
The standard was set from the start. Bill Clinton was running for re-election in 1996 for the Democrats, so their primary was a non-event, but the Republican nomination was unsettled and Delaware was voting early.
Bob Dole, the front-runner, never came near the place, but Steve Forbes was ardent, and the state went for him. Not only that, it gave Forbes a bounce to win Arizona several days later and slow Dole down, although Forbes faded after that and Dole won the right to lose to Clinton in November.
Probably the highpoint of Delaware's primary experience was the 2008 Democratic contest. The state was voting shortly after Joe Biden dropped out, and the Democrats were dividing generally between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.
Obama came here, big time, getting a crowd estimated as high as 20,000 people to throng Rodney Square in Wilmington. Clinton never showed up, and Obama was on his way to winning the primary. Not to mention Obama later doubled down on Delaware by finding a vice president here.
It should be noted there is more to winning here than paying the state attention, even paying a lot of it. Ask Newt Gingrich.
Gingrich made Delaware his last stand, vowing to win or go home, as Mitt Romney was piling up delegates for the Republican nomination in 2012. Gingrich made so many campaign appearances, he could have been running for governor.
"Newt spent a lot of time in the state and gave Delaware a lot of love," said John Fluharty, who should know.
Fluharty was an itinerant campaign operative for Gingrich at the time and gave the state so much love himself, he settled here afterwards and did a stint as the Republicans' executive director. (Even if he never has changed his cell phone from the 202 D.C. area code.)
For Gingrich, it was still not to be. Although Romney parachuted in just briefly -- but long enough to clumsily upstage Jeff Cragg, the Republican candidate who was officially announcing for governor the same day -- the Republicans knew a winner when they saw one. It was Romney, not Gingrich.
Now the time is approaching for Delaware's next come-hither primary, and the Republicans are figuring Cruz, Kasich and Trump might very well show up, as are the Democrats about Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, although probably not just yet.
A handful of other states go first, including Wisconsin as the next major showdown on April 5, meaning the candidates naturally can be expected to be focused on Green Bay before they set their sights on Greenville or The Green or Greenwood.
So the Delaware Republicans can dream, envisioning their primary as a vital firewall against Trump or a breakthrough for him, whatever, dependent on which candidates come in.
There has been a lot of talk this election season about who has small what. The state Republicans might have a small hand to play, but they could be big where it counts.