Delaware: first in nation, a definite primary runner-up

Delaware gets no respect for its presidential primary, but still thinks it's better than the one in That Little State Up North.

Dela-where, you may say?

Dela-here, that's where.

Those of us who call Delaware home are not disheartened by the fact that the media world has all but ignored what's left of our presidential primary today, after tripping all over their television cables to talk to candidates in That Little State Up North (TLSUN).

After all, if we were strong enough to win the privilege of being the Union's first state (Dec. 7, 1787), we are not going to let a little state whose intitials are N.H. and that managed to come in only ninth (June 21, 1788) get us down.

Indeed, despite the lack of attention, people here cling to the notion that, in presidential-primary terms, they are true keepers of the flame.

"Delaware's primary is a real primary that shows what real Democrats and Republicans think. New Hampshire lets independents vote ... and that doesn't tell you anything," says Chris Coons, Delaware coordinator for Vice President Al Gore's campaign.

Most Delawareans agree. And most agree with another comment by Lt. Gov. Ruth Ann Minner:

"It's a mess," she says.

It got that way when TLSUN, the "live-free-or-die" state, strong-armed presidential candidates into signing a pledge promising not to campaign - or even declare candidacy - in any state hosting a primary fewer than seven days after its first-in-the-nation Feb. 1 vote.

You do and your name will never, ever appear on our primary ballot, said TLSUN.

And what happened? A war hero, a former professional athlete, a publisher, the governor of Texas, and the vice president of the US knuckled under.

That was the first thing that didn't make much sense to Delawareans. After all, the New Hampshire primary predicts national political success about as well as the Grammy awards predict continued success in the music industry. For every Milli Vanilli there's a Gary Hart. For every Arrested Development there's a Paul Tsongas.

Delaware's presidential primary was, by law, supposed to take place last Saturday. Democrats and Republicans were to vote in a nonbinding (on delegates) contest four days after the TLSUN vote.

But not wanting to endure a political season without candidate visits, Delaware's Republicans pulled out and scheduled a party-run primary today.

The Democrats missed the withdrawal deadline, and had to hold Saturday's vote alone. Mr. Gore and former Sen.Bill Bradley were no-shows and relied on volunteers, who - in fear of provoking TLSUN's wrath - campaigned as hard as they could without spending money. Gore won, 57 to 40 percent.

Republicans Steve Forbes and George W. Bush took advantage of a rescheduled, candidate-friendly (just like TLSUN) primary, and have camped out in Delaware since last Thursday.

But, alas, two candidates - one a long-shot - an interesting primary do not make. Turnout will be light today. No TV anchors will be using the state Capitol in Dover as a background tonight.

Of course, the people of TLSUN are bluffing.

They'd never give up that cash cow their first-in-the-nation status gives them. (We here in Delaware are not asking for much, maybe just Tom Brokaw's expense account.)

Says Lincoln, Del., voter Lloyd Carter: "We need candidates with the guts to say no to New Hampshire."

Once a major candidate breaks the TLSUN pledge, or refuses to sign it, no one will sign it again - which would open the door for Delaware.

And we're ready. We've got better temperatures. We've got that most essential primary campaign tool, the photo opportunity - pristine beaches, historic forts, one of the nation's largest Air Force bases, heavy industry, agriculture - and residents willing to talk to strangers.

Delaware isn't even asking to be first, just to have its political time in the sun four days after TLSUN.

"That's what makes this so ridiculous," says Richard Bayard, Delaware Democratic Party chairman. "New Hampshire not only wants to be first. It wants to make everyone sit around talking about it for a week afterwards."

If Delaware was first to ratify the Constitution, it should be able to show off within four days of No. 9. It should be an inalienable right.

But the people of TLSUN remain in charge for now, and they got their status the old-fashioned way:

They stole it.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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