Posted: Jan. 29, 2004
By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer
When John F. Kerry arrives Friday in New Castle for a political
rally, Delaware will see something it never has seen before in the
short, scarred history of its presidential primary -- a
In the third try at finding a place on the presidential map, Kerry's
appearance here after his victories in Democratic contests in the
glitter states of Iowa and New Hampshire represents the first
fleeting nod of credibility in Delaware's direction.
Delaware Democrats will be going to the polls Tuesday, a week after
New Hampshire, along with voters in six other states in the next
round of balloting to determine whether Kerry can keep his streak
going in the seven-candidate field. Delaware Republicans will be
sitting it out because of the inevitability of President George W.
As the Democratic hopefuls scatter south and west for votes, Kerry
will come to Delaware for the first time, while Alfred C. "Al"
Sharpton will swing by Saturday on his third stop. Joseph I.
Lieberman, who has courted the state more diligently than anyone
else, was forced by the winter storm to cancel a trip Wednesday but
has rescheduled for Friday.
Lieberman counted on chugging in with what he called "Joe-mentum,"
but it seems more like "No-mentum" after a fifth-place showing in
New Hampshire, and he needed a pep talk from U.S. Sen. Thomas R.
Carper, his chief Delaware backer, as he decided to keep going.
"I said, look, Joe, it's one primary in one state. There are 48
states to go. What are the rest of us, chopped liver?" Carper said.
"A week from now, if you win them all, we can start picking
furniture for the White House."
If Delaware gains from the status that Kerry's visit brings, there
may be a little pick-me-up for him in return. State Democratic
leaders are anticipating that the Massachusetts senator will be
introduced at his rally by Joseph R. Biden Jr., his Delaware
colleague who has expressed a split presidential preference between
Kerry and Wesley K. Clark.
It is not an endorsement. Biden's staff made it very clear Thursday
that the senator was sticking by his decision not to commit to
anyone before the primary. In fact, Biden's office would not even
say he was committed to attending the rally, but still . . .
If Kerry stands shoulder to shoulder on a stage with Biden, there
would be a new effervescence in the political chemistry, even if the
introduction were to be passed off as nothing more than senatorial
courtesy. It was obvious in the way that word of the anticipated
introduction went flying through Democratic circles.
"It's a matter of protocol at least, and I'm sure Kerry is hoping
there's more than that," said Richard H. Bayard, the Democratic
What a delicate dance this presidential nomination is. Delaware has
waited a long time for a look at it, hampered not so much by its
size and small pool of delegates but by the calendar.
The state switched to a primary from Iowa-style caucuses in 1996,
only to make a rookie mistake and blunder into a costly feud with
New Hampshire over its first-in-the-nation primary.
Delaware figured it would hold the second primary four days later,
but New Hampshire figured otherwise. To protect the supremacy of its
primary, it insisted on a weeklong window before any other state
voted and slapped a candidate embargo on Delaware. The primary here
labored, attracting only the also-rans like Republican Steve Forbes,
who won here in 1996.
The Delaware Republicans were the first to give in, pulling out of
the official primary in 2000 and paying for one of their own a week
after New Hampshire's. They were rewarded with a visit from Bush,
who attended a Delaware State Chamber of Commerce dinner, and by
2004, the state law was changed to the current schedule, putting
Delaware in a pack of states voting the week after New Hampshire.
The candidates could come, but they did not -- because it appeared
that Biden might run for president, until he ruled it out in August.
That did not leave much steam for the Delaware primary.
Lieberman already has made four visits and set up a slender
organization, although it was the biggest one here, fueled by the
endorsements from Carper, Lt. Gov. John C. Carney Jr. and Treasurer
Jack A. Markell. Sharpton campaigned. John R. Edwards made a brief,
stealth trip for a private fund-raiser but otherwise has been
Wesley K. Clark sent in a field director, who promised his candidate
would visit but has yet to deliver. Howard B. Dean and Dennis J.
Kucinich have volunteer operations here. Kerry is coming and
stationed a staff member here last week.
Next week the voters take over. What they will do is uncertain,
because this really amounts to the first time. "We don't have an
established reputation. There's no basis for people to predict,"
said Joseph A. Pika, a political science professor at the University
Robert L. Byrd, a lobbyist and Democratic strategist for the
governor, framed it this way. "The question is," Byrd said, "with
all the work Lieberman has done here, do people stay with him or go
with the Kerry juggernaut?"
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