Posted: Feb. 4, 2004


By Celia Cohen

Grapevine Political Writer

U.S. Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. voted the way most Delaware Democrats did. He went for John F. Kerry in the presidential primary Tuesday.

Not that it was a surprise. In the lead-up to the vote, Biden did all but send semaphores that Kerry was his man, based on the reasoning that most seemed to be influencing Democrats' votes -- political philosophy and competitiveness with President George W. Bush and the Republicans.

"This is the guy I'm closest to politically. This is the guy most likely to beat Bush," Biden said in an interview after he headlined a jammed political rally in a New Castle union hall Friday evening, when Biden came to praise Kerry and all but endorse him.

Up and down Delaware, among Democrats who regard themselves as liberal, moderate or conservative, Kerry emerged as their candidate of choice.

The Massachusetts senator carried the state with 50 percent of the vote, according to unofficial election returns, with nothing less than a runaway victory in a seven-candidate field.

Kerry took 50 percent of the vote in New Castle County, 49 percent in Kent County and 55 percent in Sussex County, according to CNN's poll results.

The television network also found Kerry to be the choice of 50 percent of the self-identified liberals, 52 percent of the moderates and 47 percent of the conservatives. In addition, he was the favorite of 71 percent of the Democrats who said beating Bush was the key factor in making up their mind.

"What George Bush has managed to do in three years -- and is doing more and more each day -- is energize Democrats where no one or nothing else has been able to do that," said Edward R. "Ted" Kaufman, a past Democratic national committeeman for Delaware.

"Money and organization are fine, but it's like a sailboat. If the wind isn't blowing, it's not going anywhere. Money and organization get trumped by enthusiasm," Kaufman added.

The unofficial Delaware breakdown went this way: Kerry, 50 percent; Joseph I. Lieberman, 11 percent; John R. Edwards, 11 percent; Howard B. Dean, 10 percent; Wesley K. Clark, 10 percent; Alfred C. "Al" Sharpton, 6 percent; Dennis J. Kucinich, 1 percent; others, 1 percent.

Once the returns are official, they will become the basis for allocating Delaware's delegates to the Democratic national nominating convention in July in Boston. The delegates will be selected in April at a state party convention.

The state is entitled to a total of 23 delegates, including 15 delegates determined by the primary vote and eight others known as super-delegates who are unpledged to any candidate.

The super-delegates are: Biden, U.S. Sen. Thomas R. Carper, Gov. Ruth Ann Minner, state Chairman Richard H. Bayard, Vice Chairwoman Leah Betts, National Committeeman Bert A. DiClemente, National Committeewoman Karen Valentine, and an additional unpledged delegate to be chosen at the state convention.

Of the remaining 15 pledged delegates, Kerry is expected to claim 14 of them, and Sharpton gets the last one. A candidate must poll at least 15 percent in a geographic locale -- the three counties and Wilmington -- to earn a delegate. In addition to Kerry, the only candidate to qualify was Sharpton, who topped the threshold in the city, although it was unclear Wednesday by exactly how much.

Sharpton's backers were thrilled. "I feel like Muhammad Ali. We shook up the world," said Wilmington Councilman Norman M. Oliver.

Beyond Kerry's campaign, Delaware Democrats collectively were feeling like winners because they believe their primary counted for something for the first time. This was the state's third try at holding a primary after switching from caucuses in 1996, but the first one since Delaware moved the date by three days to accommodate New Hampshire and end a candidate boycott.

Not only did Delaware pick up some national coverage, voting in a roundup with six other states, but Lieberman found the state important enough to risk his candidacy on his showing here, and Kerry and Sharpton joined Lieberman in personally campaigning here.

"Good, bad or indifferent, we have had a presidential candidate stake his whole campaign on Delaware," said Robert L. Byrd, a lobbyist who is also a political strategist for the governor.

Furthermore, the candidates who came here fared better here. Kerry won. Lieberman never got out of single digits anywhere else. Sharpton generally was a blip elsewhere, although he polled 10 percent of the vote in South Carolina, where he also spent time.

"Obviously Kerry came here and did well. It certainly helped Lieberman and Sharpton by coming here. This is Lieberman's best state, and Sharpton's at 6 percent," said Edward J. Freel, who was the secretary of state when Carper was governor and helped his old boss with Lieberman's campaign.

State Democrats appeared to feel bittersweet about knocking Lieberman out of the race -- gratified to have played a part in winnowing the field but sorry to reject a candidate who wooed them with such verve.

When the Democrats gathered Tuesday night at their state headquarters in New Castle to hear the returns, Chairman Rick Bayard approached Lawrence E. Windley, the state director for Lieberman.

Windley, a Dover resident, had fallen on the ice Friday morning and broken his shoulder while his candidate was campaigning here, but he never went to a doctor for treatment until the day's events were done. Bayard gently touched Windley's sling.

"Purple Heart," Bayard said.