Posted: May 18, 2011
PUSHING BACK THE PRESIDENTIAL PRIMARY
By Celia Cohen
Pay no attention to the date set in state law for the presidential primary next year. It could have less credibility than the prediction that the Rapture is coming on Saturday.
Delaware was supposed to go early in the 2012 primary season, "Super Tuesday" on Feb. 7, along with seven other states in the first day of mass voting after the opening contests in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina.
That date is all-but-destined to be scrubbed. After talking it over, state party leaders for the Democrats and the Republicans mutually decided the voting should be moved to April 24.
Legislation officially shifting the primary from the first Tuesday in February to the last Tuesday in April is expected to be introduced after the General Assembly returns May 31 from a two-week recess, so it can be passed by the end of the session on June 30.
The new date would have Delaware voting at the same time as Pennsylvania.
The shift would accommodate the efforts of both parties at the national level to consolidate the nominating season. To accomplish it, the national Democrats offered the states bonus delegates if they moved, and the national Republicans threatened to subtract delegates if they did not.
How typical is that? The Republicans proposed cuts. The Democrats proposed giveaways.
Here in Delaware, the Democrats were the ones to approach the Republicans about making the change. John Daniello, the Democratic state chair, suggested they set up a mini-regional primary, either by voting on April 3 with Maryland and Washington, D.C., or on April 24 with Pennsylvania.
The Republicans were inclined to listen. Not only was it consistent with their own party's thinking, but the state Senate is run by the Democrats, the state House of Representatives is run by the Democrats, and the governor is a Democrat, so the Democrats could do what they wanted, anyway.
"We found ourselves in the position of not having a lot of negotiating strength," quipped Laird Stabler, the Republican national committeeman.
Both parties preferred aligning with Pennsylvania, mainly because of the influence of Philadelphia television on candidates' advertising and appearances.
"I think it's a good fit. There is a high probability that candidates will skip over the line and come to Delaware," said Priscilla Rakestraw, the Republican national committeewoman.
The great unanswered question is whether Delaware will have a meaningful part to play in the primary season by voting so late.
Not that the Democrats were expecting anything more than a perfunctory primary, anyway, unlikely as they are to turn away from Barack Obama and whoever that guy is who is the vice president.
By contrast, the Republican nomination is an open contest, the same way it was for the Democrats in 2008 when the Pennsylvania primary still mattered to Obama and Hillary Clinton.
"There is no clear front-runner in my mind, so if Pennsylvania is in play, for a candidate that's in a little bit of trouble in Pennsylvania, they could be able to say, well, I came in second in Pennsylvania, but I won in Delaware," said Stabler, the Republican national committeeman.
Whatever, the state's election officials are relieved by the prospect of a later primary. If it were in February, they were looking at mailing ballots overseas to military personnel during Christmas card season. Not to mention they no longer have to fear snow on Presidential Primary Day.
Elaine Manlove, the elections commissioner, has a particularly unhappy memory of a February election with snow plowed against the only wheelchair-friendly entrance to a polling place and blocking it.
"It takes us out of the snow, so we're real happy," Manlove said.
"Hopefully it gets more people to the polls," said Michael Katz, the Democratic state senator expected to be the prime sponsor of the date-change bill as the chair of the Administrative Services/Elections Committee.
The late primary also amounts to a tacit acknowledgement that Delaware has given up the dream of going early enough to become another New Hampshire.
When Delaware switched away from presidential caucuses in 1996, it hoped to find national prominence as the second-in-the-nation primary, to be held on a Saturday following New Hampshire's vote on a Tuesday.
This political tailgating incensed New Hampshire and made candidates who desperately needed to win there afraid to come here. Delaware backed off some, but now it is in full retreat.
"Delaware will bring to an end its pursuit of a spot in the front end of the process that would rival New Hampshire's," said Joe Pika, a political scientist who is an associate dean at the University of Delaware. "This new date seems a little late. . . . Most recent nominations have been sewn up during the first two weeks in March, [although] 2008 was an exception."
Fine. Let New Hampshire be the state that started the primary season. Nothing it can do will ever make it the state that started the nation.
Besides, who needs an early primary for presidential glory when the state has a vice president?