Posted: Feb. 3, 2004


By Celia Cohen

Grapevine Political Writer

Delaware Democrats voted in droves for John F. Kerry in the primary here Tuesday, ratifying the earlier decisions of Iowa and New Hampshire that the angular senator from Massachusetts has the stature and the bearing to rival President George W. Bush and the Republicans in the 2004 election.

State Democrats also tolled the end of Joseph I. Lieberman's campaign by giving a distant, second-place finish to the Connecticut senator, who courted them more ardently than the other six candidates combined and regarded Delaware as a must-win if he was to save a candidacy that simply never caught on.

North Carolina Sen. John R. Edwards demonstrated the surprising resiliency that he has shown elsewhere by coming in third without even trying, a nip behind Lieberman and slightly ahead of former Vermont Gov. Howard B. Dean and retired General Wesley K. Clark.

The Rev. Alfred C. "Al" Sharpton, who joined Kerry and Lieberman as the only candidates to campaign in the state in person, finished back in the pack with only Ohio Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich behind him.

Kerry competed in Delaware with only the bare necessities of an operation. It was so elemental that Diane Clark Streett, the New Castle County register of wills, wound up unexpectedly as its designated spokeswoman when state Democrats gathered at their party headquarters in New Castle to watch the returns.

"We all know that up to this point it's been a tough scramble," Streett said. "Tonight Delaware has spoken as to who they want to be the leader of the team. As Kerry says" -- and here the crowd called out one of Kerry's signature lines with her -- "Bring it on!"

Lieberman's campaign collapsed so quickly that U.S. Sen. Thomas R. Carper, his campaign chairman here, was rushed to a microphone to speak before the candidate officially withdrew.

"Our warmest and heartiest congratulations to John Kerry for a very impressive victory," Carper said. "If I had to do it all over again, I would stand right by Joe Lieberman's side. Whether you wear a 'Joe' button or any of the others, we're going to be united."

Delaware was one of seven states holding primaries or caucuses Tuesday, a week after New Hampshire's first-in-the-nation primary became a springboard to front-runner status for Kerry.

As the returns came in across the country, they showed Delaware as part of the Democratic trend for Kerry, who claimed a majority of the states by also winning in Missouri, Arizona, New Mexico and North Dakota.

With 100 percent of the vote in, Delaware's unofficial primary results showed: Kerry, 50 percent; Lieberman, 11 percent; Edwards, 11 percent; Dean, 10 percent; Clark, 10 percent; Sharpton, 6 percent, Kucinich 1 percent; others, 1 percent.

On a dismal, rainy day, the primary drew only a modest showing from the state's 224,721 registered Democrats, with 15 percent of them going to the polls. Even so, the turnout  was a marked improvement over 2000, when only 5 percent of the Democrats voted in an election that Albert Gore Jr. won over Bill Bradley. It counted for progress in a state holding only its third presidential primary after switching away from caucuses in 1996.

Delaware Republicans did not vote at all Tuesday, opting not to have a primary because their national ticket is locked in place. Instead, the party staged an evening rally in Wilmington with Doro Bush Koch, the president's sister.

The state's independent voters stayed home, barred by law from voting in party primaries.

Kerry claimed victory here four days after staging the highlight of the primary season -- a rally at the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers union hall in New Castle, where about 500 Democrats thronged to see him and much of the state's Democratic establishment closed ranks around him with an approving nod, although not a formal endorsement, from U.S. Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr.

Kerry's campaign stop -- the first ever by a front-runner for the nomination of either major party -- was enough to overwhelm Lieberman's diligent spade work.

Lieberman got an early jump on the other candidates, becoming the first to campaign here once the state went up for grabs after Biden declared in August he would not run. Lieberman improved his standing further by collecting endorsements from Carper, Lt. Gov. John C. Carney Jr. and Treasurer Jack A. Markell, but in the end his efforts could not withstand Kerry's building tide -- not even when he sent in his own mother to campaign for him.

The primary produced another first here. It was the appearance of a "Spin Room," a gathering of representatives from all of the campaigns after a political event, most often a debate, in one place to put the best "spin" on what happened in interviews with reporters.

The Spin Room occurred at Democratic state headquarters in New Castle, but if truth be told, there really was not much spinning that occurred. Most of the campaigns simply congratulated Kerry on his win and urged the party to pull together.

Wilmington Councilman Norman M. Oliver followed that script on behalf of Sharpton. "We wish we had more resources, but if anyone knows Al Sharpton, he's a fighter and he'll be around," Oliver said. "It's important we all stand together and beat George Bush."

There was a brief flutter as Delaware Democrats heard about 15 minutes before the rest of the country that Lieberman was going to withdraw, as Carper and Markell took a telephone call from the candidate letting them know the decision was made. Not that they had not expected it.

Carper credited Kerry with coming to Delaware to seal his success. "He probably would have won even without it, but it was a smart move. It was the icing on the cake," Carper said.