Posted: Dec. 2, 2003
TO ENDORSE OR NOT TO ENDORSE,
THAT IS THE QUESTION
By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer
U.S. Sen. Thomas R. Carper endorsed fellow
Democrat Joseph I. Lieberman for president about as fast as you can
say, "Joe Biden in '08."
U.S. Rep. Michael N. Castle had a no-brainer
of a choice. As the leading Republican in Delaware, he not only was
committed to President George W. Bush's re-election effort but was
tapped to be the chairman of the campaign's local operation.
Among the state's four most prominent
officeholders, it has left the Democratic twosome of U.S. Sen.
Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Gov. Ruth Ann Minner playing harder to get.
With two months to go before Delaware's
presidential primary on Feb. 3, Biden and Minner still are staying
mum -- as they have since Biden declared his non-candidacy in
August, putting the state up for grabs on the Democratic side to the
nine candidates in the field.
Maybe Biden thinks the best guy is sitting
this one out. Maybe Minner sees no percentage in getting in. Who
knows? They are as silent about their reasons as they are about
their preferences. Nor are they giving any clues whether they intend
"No time soon," said Margaret Aitken, the
senator's press secretary.
"The governor doesn't know whether she will make an
endorsement before the primary," said Gregory B. Patterson, the
communications director for Minner.
For now, the biggest beneficiary of this state
of affairs appears to be Lieberman, the Connecticut senator who was
the Democrats' vice presidential nominee in 2000. Capitalizing on
Carper's backing, Lieberman was the first to staff the state -- with
an ex-aide to Carper -- and popped up here, as has his wife
In fact, Lieberman has scheduled his fourth
appearance on Dec. 19, when he will be in Wilmington at the
University of Delaware's Goodstay Center for a breakfast
fund-raiser, hosted by Carper, Lt. Gov. John C. Carney Jr., State
Treasurer Jack A. Markell and former Attorney General Charles M.
A simple strategy of visibility has worked
here before. In 1996, the first time Delaware held a presidential
primary instead of Iowa-style caucuses, it meant victory for Steve
Forbes on a six-candidate ballot for the Republican nomination,
eventually claimed by Robert J. Dole.
"Delaware is one of those states where
sometimes you get credit for showing up," Carper said.
Beyond Lieberman, other Democratic candidates
have less of a presence -- or none. The Rev. Alfred C. "Al" Sharpton
has visited twice. U.S. Sen. John R. Edwards of North Carolina held
a private fund-raiser. Retired Gen. Wesley K. Clark set up a campaign
operation last month but has not arrived himself. Former Vermont
Gov. Howard B. Dean has a band of volunteers yet to establish much
of a profile.
Endorsements from Biden and Minner could
change the political calculus, so naturally there is a guessing game
about which candidates they favor.
Biden has said he is leaning toward either
Clark or U.S. Sen. John F. Kerry of Massachusetts, but it has not
escaped notice that Valerie Biden Owens, the senator's sister who
runs his campaigns, is an executive vice president with Joe
Slade White & Co., a political firm contracted to handle media
advertising for Clark.
Minner brought in Lieberman a year ago as the
draw for a fund-raiser, where they traded compliments and
"only-in-America" stories, she as the first woman elected governor
here and he as the first Jewish-American on a national ticket.
Still, Carper clearly has the Lieberman
franchise in Delaware, and Minner also has a political connection
with U.S. Rep. Richard A. Gephardt through Steve Murphy, who is both
the campaign manager for the Missouri congressman's presidential
campaign and a political consultant for Minner. Nor can it hurt that
Murphy is a 1972 University of Delaware graduate originally from
Milford, also Minner's home town.
If Biden and Minner do endorse, one thing
appears certain. Their candidate had better show. Delaware's Republican
establishment stumbled in 1996 when it largely embraced Bob Dole,
who did not come in, and the electorate went with Forbes.
"The threshold question is, will the candidate
come to Delaware and actually campaign?" said Michael Ratchford, a
former Republican secretary of state and ex-chief of staff to
Castle, who had the instinct to endorse no one in 1996.
There is also another serious consideration.
"You endorse because it's somebody you really want to see be
president," said Edward E. "Ted" Kaufman, a former Democratic
national committeeman from Delaware and a longtime adviser to Biden.
That motivation appears to be driving Carper's
endorsement for Lieberman. "I just think he'd be a terrific
president," Carper said. "I like the fact he's positioned in the
center, and I think if we're going to win in November, we need a
Just as Carper's decision to endorse sets him
apart from Biden and Minner, it distinguishes him from almost all of
his fellow Democratic senators. Except for those who are backing
home state colleagues, Carper is one of only three to state a
preference, according to Roll Call, a Capitol Hill newspaper. U.S.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California endorsed Kerry, and U.S. Sen.
Max Baucus of Montana endorsed Clark.
Carper called it common sense to make his call
early, because of the compactness of the primary calendar. Iowa
opens with its caucuses on Jan. 19, followed by New Hampshire's
first-in-the-nation primary on Jan. 27 and then a cascade of states,
candidate selection process is front-end loaded. For those who wait
until February or March, they may be coming in after the fact,"
For now, Carper stands alone on the bully
pulpit accorded to officeholders like him and Castle, Biden and
Minner, but you never know.
"Biden and Minner have both been around," said
Robert L. Byrd, a lobbyist and former Democratic legislator who is a
key member of Minner's kitchen Cabinet. "They're waiting to make the
right move, and they haven't seen the right time to make a move."
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