Posted: Dec. 19, 2003
By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer
Joseph I. Lieberman got it. Of the Democratic
presidential candidates courting Delaware, he was the one who
realized that this little state, regardless of political party, was
in mourning because of the death of former U.S. Sen. William V. Roth
Lieberman, a Connecticut senator first elected
in 1988, served two terms with Roth, a Republican who died last
Saturday at the age of 82. Lieberman had sent condolences the next
day as the news spread, calling Roth "a titan of Delaware politics."
Strangely, the other two candidates working to
build bases here -- former General Wesley K. Clark and former
Vermont Gov. Howard B. Dean -- were silent, even though Clark was
NATO's supreme allied commander in 1997 at a time when Roth was the
president of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, and Dean is schooled
in small-state politics.
From the Republican side, President George W.
Bush also offered condolences. His father served with Roth in the
Congress, and the ex-president was the keynote speaker at a tribute
for Roth in 2001 in Wilmington.
Roth's death overshadowed a spike in political
action with the approach of Delaware's presidential primary on Feb.
3, when the state's Democratic voters go to the polls to sort out
nine candidates. The Republicans are skipping the primary because
Bush's nomination for a second term is a foregone conclusion.
Lieberman came in Friday to campaign. Clark's
local operation held an open house Thursday evening at its
Wilmington headquarters, one of 700 such events across the country,
and dialed in to a conference call with the candidate.
In addition, Clark's organization and Dean's
band of volunteers competed in a forgettable race to be the first to
file for the Delaware ballot. Clark won, filing on Tuesday while
Dean filed Thursday.
Dueling endorsements also were announced.
Clark's campaign picked up the support of state Rep. Dennis P.
Williams and Kenneth W. Boulden Jr., the New Castle County clerk of
the peace. Lieberman's campaign countered with state Rep. Melanie L.
As of now, Lieberman is continuing to
stump more seriously here than any of the other candidates. This was
his fourth visit over the last year to a state that expects a
personal touch from politicians -- as was all too obvious at Clark's
open house with a question from Martha A. Denison, an official with
the state employees' union.
"The question is, is he coming to Delaware or
not?" Denison asked John C. Oldfield, the campaign's state director.
Oldfield said Clark would come but could not say when.
Meanwhile, Lieberman was here, making four
stops in New Castle County at a fund-raiser in Wilmington, a
manufacturing plant in greater Newark, a holiday party for the
United Auto Workers at Churchman's Crossing and a meet-and-greet at
Democratic state headquarters near New Castle.
Lieberman's crowds ranged in size from about
15 people at the plant and party headquarters to 50 or 60 people at
the fund-raiser and the UAW gathering. He appeared variously with
U.S. Sen. Thomas R. Carper, Lt. Gov. John C. Carney Jr. and
Treasurer Jack A. Markell, all of whom have endorsed him. He also
was accompanied by the first smothering clutch of reporters and
television cameras the state has seen this primary season.
Not only did Lieberman extend his regrets
about Bill Roth in person, he also mentioned another matter
uppermost in Delawareans' thoughts. He wished good luck to the
University of Delaware's football team in the Division I-AA finals
Friday night, saying he hoped that what Chris Berman, the ESPN
sports broadcaster, said when introducing Lieberman recently would
apply to the Blue Hens, too.
"This guy could go all the way," Lieberman
In campaign strategy Lieberman has focused on
Delaware as the political equivalent of a firewall, gambling that if
he falters in the opening caucuses in Iowa on Jan. 19 and the
first-in-the-nation primary in New Hampshire on Jan. 27, he can make
his stand when seven states, including Delaware, vote a week later.
"Feb. 3 is as important or more important than
Iowa and New Hampshire," he said.
Lieberman used his visit to portray himself as
the anti-Dean, an antidote to the front-runner who stunned the
political world by collecting an endorsement from Al Gore Jr., the
presidential candidate who had chosen Lieberman as a running mate in
"It's been quite a week. Somebody said, Howard
Dean captured Al Gore, and the United States Army captured Saddam
Hussein," Lieberman quipped.
"Howard Dean and I represent the choices most
clearly. He's soft on defense and hard on the middle class and on
business. . . I'm an independent-minded, center-out Democrat . . .
pro-growth, pro-jobs, strong on security."
After a series of thrusts at Dean at his early
events, Lieberman gave them up at Democratic headquarters, where
Dean volunteer Steven Biener was there to watch. Lieberman said
afterwards he was simply tired of hearing himself talk about Dean.
No doubt that was it -- and not a clever sidestep of what could have
been a made-for-the-media confrontation with Biener.
In a sign the primary is warming up, the
voters finally engaged instead of observing as they have been,
treating candidates more like celebrities than politicians.
Lieberman took questions on all sorts of
issues, such as Iraq, tax cuts, health care and the Middle East. He
warmed to a question about his views on welfare from Hope Burnett, a
Newark resident who works at M Cubed Technologies Inc., the
Newark-area plant Lieberman visited that makes plates for soldiers'
Lieberman said the welfare system ought to be
about opportunity and responsibility -- with the best opportunity
provided by a growing economy and federal assistance for training,
child care and transportation. Then he remarked on his questioner's
name, which reminded him of President Bill Clinton's signature
expression with a twist on his boyhood home in Arkansas, "I still
believe in a place called Hope."
"I love your name," Lieberman said. "I believe
in a man called Hope."
On this day Lieberman also stumbled into the
full flavor of state politics -- those chance encounters with
politicians from the other party, carried off in a genial matter
that inevitably gives rise to the remark, "Only in Delaware."
As Lieberman arrived at the UAW party, he ran
into U.S. Rep. Michael N. Castle, the state's leading Republican and
the chairman of Bush's re-election campaign here. Castle had spoken
to the auto workers and was on his way out.
"It's very good of you to come out and endorse
me," Lieberman said.
"My God, I'm the warm-up speaker for Joe
Lieberman," Castle said.
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