Posted: Jan. 30, 2004
STATE DEMOCRATS WATCH
By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer
John F. Kerry got himself a
packed union hall Friday evening in New Castle, his U.S. Senate
colleague Joseph R. Biden Jr. by his side and about 500 people
craning to see him as though he could leap tall buildings in a
Earlier in the day, Joseph
I. Lieberman puttered through the state with a lot less fuss,
trolling for votes one by one in small knots of people at
tried-and-true places like a bowling alley in New Castle and a
popular farmer's market in Dover.
This is the merciless
reality of presidential politics. The crowd comes to the
front-runner. The underdog comes to the crowd.
Whatever the day's events
meant to the contestants, it was a rare high note for Delaware's
evolving presidential primary -- two candidates of caliber in the
state on the same day. Kerry and Lieberman are a nationally known
pair, the Massachusetts senator who has emerged as the leader for
the nomination and the Connecticut senator who ran for vice
president in 2000.
Kerry was making his first
visit this campaign season to Delaware, Lieberman his fifth. There
are four days left until Delaware's primary on Tuesday, the same day
six other states vote. Kerry was unsure whether he would return here
beforehand. Lieberman guaranteed he would.
On this day Kerry came in
like a force of nature, trailing staff members everywhere and a
traveling press corps of about 70 members to the International
Brotherhood of Electrical Workers union hall in New Castle, across
Basin Road from his landing at the New Castle County Airport.
The candidate was showered
with endorsements from the Delaware Democratic establishment,
including state Vice Chairman James F. Hussey Jr., National
Committeeman Bert A. DiClemente, Wilmington City Council President
Theodore Blunt and more than 20 other state legislators, county
officials from New Castle, Kent and Sussex and members of the
Not Gov. Ruth Ann Minner,
though, who was absent and neutral. Not Joe Biden, even though Biden
called Kerry "a friend of mine" and "the guy most likely to beat
[George W.] Bush," and Kerry called Delaware "Biden country" and
answered someone who shouted that Biden should be secretary of state
by saying, "You've got to elect me first before I can do that."
Biden and Kerry both said
Biden's presence and praise did not constitute an endorsement.
The crowd broke into chants
of "Kerry! Kerry! Kerry!" as the candidate spoke, particularly when
he assailed the president. Kerry spoke as though the nomination were
his, training no fire on the six other Democrats still in the field.
"I came here to mark with
you the beginning of the end of the Bush presidency," Kerry said.
"We will make it clear on Nov. 2 that the only person in the United
States who deserves to be laid off is George W. Bush . . . .
"We're coming, they're
going, and don't let the door hit you on the way out."
Kerry spent considerable
time after he spoke signing autographs and shaking hands in the
festive atmosphere of the hall, where the walls were decked with
U.S. flags and union banners, and the crowd was bright with union
jackets and red t-shirts proclaiming Kerry "the real deal." The
voters seemed to like what they saw.
"I just feel he's the guy to
beat Bush, plain and simple. He's got the experience, he's been in
the Senate, and he's a Vietnam vet," said Don Clagg of Brandywine
"I'm excited because he
seems to have caught the fire, and he's looking more and more
presidential. I haven't really decided yet, but if he can come and
grace little Delaware, I can come check him out," said Jean Bonner
of Delaware City.
With considerably less
hoopla, Lieberman's itinerary took him to the Bowlerama in New
Castle and to Spence's Bazaar in Dover, and it certainly had the
feel of presidential politics to it, too.
At the bowling alley, there
were sneak attacks from rivals. The cars in the parking lot were
leafleted with fliers promoting Kerry's rally later in the day, and
Steven Biener, a volunteer for Howard B. Dean, showed up with a
campaign sign. Biener quickly was surrounded by a flock of
Lieberman's backers who serenaded him with a chant, "Let's go, Joe!
Let's go, Joe!"
Biener's presence was an
indication of how his candidate is doing here. If Lieberman had to
employ an underdog's tactic of going to a crowd, Biener was reduced
to piggybacking on that to steal some news coverage for Dean.
conquering-hero treatment when he arrived at the bowling alley,
greeted by a sea of red, white and blue "Joe" campaign signs and the
trademark chant from perhaps two dozen loyalists. His entourage
included U.S. Sen. Thomas R. Carper, his chief backer in Delaware,
if not the country, as well as state Treasurer Jack A. Markell and
state Rep. Melanie L. George.
Immediately Lieberman was
engulfed by the presidential scrum -- a movable crush of reporters,
television cameras and microphones from the Delaware and
Philadelphia news media and the faithful volunteers with the "Joe"
placards. Whenever the candidate tried to shake hands with a bowler,
it looked like he was reaching through an octopus.
The advance team had done
its work. The Bowlerama had two distinct sets of bowlers that
morning, one a senior league and the other home-schoolers. Lieberman
went right for the senior citizens.
He chatted with folks,
asking one for a vote, congratulating another on her bowling score,
complimenting a third for wearing a New England Patriots sweatshirt.
One of the voters was a true
believer. Retiree Barbara Murray, a Democrat from Newark, has lived
in Delaware for about four years after a lifetime in Connecticut.
She said she went way back with Lieberman.
"He lived around the corner
from me in Stanford. I always said that someday Joey was going to be
president," Murray said.
Another voter was a recent
convert. Ezra Temko, a student home in Newark while on a winter
break from Oberlin College in Ohio, switched his support to
Lieberman after Richard A. Gephardt, his first choice, dropped out.
"Lieberman is the only
candidate who's strong on defense and still progressive on social
issues," Temko said.
Lieberman, who has wooed
Delaware Democrats more ardently than any of his rivals, was here to
keep it up. Never mind that a week earlier he had courted New
Hampshire voters by pledging allegiance to their dearest
institution, promising to defend the primacy of their
first-in-the-nation primary "to the death." Now he was focused on a
different heartthrob and on what gives Delawareans their bragging
"Delaware is the first
state, and it's getting to be first in my mind," Lieberman said.
"I have said all along that
the Feb. 3 primaries would be the first big test of my candidacy,"
he added. "I'm the one real moderate in this race. I'm the candidate
who can win because elections are won in the center."
In Delaware, elections also
are won by candidates who know how to be civil. Lieberman got that
right, too, pronouncing himself undaunted by Biden's pose with
"It's an act of hospitality,
I guess," Lieberman said. "That's what he told me."
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