Posted: Jan. 10, 2004


By Celia Cohen

Grapevine Political Writer

With three and a half weeks to go before the Delaware presidential primary, the campaign for Democrat Howard B. Dean, the candidate who has been the talk of the 2004 political season, officially got started here on Saturday, although it took a lot of out-of-staters to do it.

The campaign held a rally and an open house at its new headquarters in Newark on Delaware Avenue, getting about 100 "Deaniacs" -- as they like to call themselves -- to wave U.S. flags and "Dean for America" signs during a half-hour outdoors gathering that was so numbingly cold it made Delaware feel like Iowa or New Hampshire, where they really do know something about picking presidents in the bluster of winter.

Here the voters are still getting the hang of it in only their third primary since the state switched away from caucuses, so the Dean campaign stocked its rally with ringers -- about 75 from New Jersey and a dozen or so from Pennsylvania, according to coordinators from those states.

The Delawareans for Dean tended to have the look of the last lingering protesters from the Sixties and the Days of Rage. It made Jessica Howell of Pike Creek Valley stand out -- as a youthful, first-time volunteer who said she was attracted to Dean as an anti-war candidate because "he spoke out about it and wasn't afraid to."

The event for Dean was part of a modest presence of presidential politicking this week, as Delaware prepares to vote on Feb. 3 in what could be a critical cluster of seven states, following the Iowa caucuses on Jan. 19 and the New Hampshire primary on Jan. 27.

Only Delaware Democrats will be going to the polls to help their party sort through nine candidates. The Republicans are not bothering because George W. Bush's re-nomination is a foregone conclusion.

"I think the field will be dramatically smaller on Feb. 4, and Delaware will have an opportunity to play a meaningful role in the winnowing process," said U.S. Sen. Thomas R. Carper, a Democrat who is backing Joseph I. Lieberman.

The state continues to suffer from a dearth of candidate appearances with only Lieberman and Alfred C. Sharpton notching multiple trips, John R. Edwards in here once for a private fund-raiser and the rest not at all, although there is a growing sense that after Iowa and New Hampshire, several of them could parachute in.

As for this week, there was a little flurry of endorsements and some organizational stirrings.

State Sen. Karen E. Peterson, a Stanton Democrat, endorsed Dean at the Newark rally, praising him as "the one who can energize Democrats like we have not seen in a long time."

Wilmington Democratic Councilman Theopalis K. Gregory endorsed Lieberman in a conference call with reporters, calling him a centrist and a unifier with a strong urban agenda of crime-fighting and housing initiatives.

In addition, Richard A. Gephardt's campaign finally established a presence here, picking up endorsements from state Rep. Helene M. Keeley, a Wilmington Democrat, and state Rep. John J. Viola, a Newark-Glasgow Democrat, and also setting up a small staff, according to spokesman Brian M.P. McGlinchey, a Delaware official with the Laborers International Union.

McGlinchey predicted that Gephardt would visit "not once but twice" -- probably after Iowa, a state that is regarded as essential to the campaign.

The immediacy of the primary is expected to become more evident next week as Lieberman begins his political advertising on television and radio. Craig T. Smith, his national campaign manager, said the organization has earmarked hundreds of thousands of dollars for a media buy.

Apart from the other candidates, Lieberman appears to be following the model that led to a fairy-tale win for Steve Forbes in the 1996 Republican primary, the most notable victory in the state's short history of primaries. While his rivals generally neglected the state, Forbes dropped by and also bombarded the voters with advertising on the airwaves.

Forbes was rewarded for paying attention. As Carper recently put it, "Delaware is one of those places where showing up is important."