The Dweeb Factor

Joe Lieberman seems to think that the road to the White House leads through Delaware. He has been the most visible campaigner and the most frequent visitor to the First State so far in the primary campaign.

There's a certain logistical logic to this for Lieberman. Delaware is about half way between Connecticut and Washington. Traveling between the two by car or train takes you through the state's most populous — and most heavily Democratic — county, New Castle, which is also home to its largest city, Wilmington (a metropolis of nearly 73,000). So it's a convenient campaign stop for Lieberman.

But the senator also seems to have an electoral strategy that goes beyond mere convenience. He has taken a pass on Iowa, and trails by a lot in New Hampshire, so he's already looking ahead to Super Tuesday, Feb. 3, when the large field of eight Democratic candidates will likely be cut down to a more manageable size following primaries in seven states: Arizona, Delaware, Missouri, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma and South Carolina. Regardless of how those other contests go Feb. 3, Lieberman's strategy seems to be to survive the winnowing of Super Tuesday by winning Delaware. From there, one guesses, he hopes to become the anti-Dean and eventually win the party's nomination.

This strategy has been aided by the other candidates' lack of presence in Delaware, which most likely accounts for Lieberman's apparent lead in polls there. Lieberman has also received the endorsement of Sen. Tom Carper. Two of the state's other prominent Democrats — Gov. Ruth Ann Minner and Wilmington Mayor James Baker — have said they will not endorse a candidate in the Feb. 3 primary. That still leaves Sen. Joe Biden, however, whose endorsement would carry more weight than Carper's and could tip the vote in the coming weeks.

To me, Lieberman's Delaware strategy has a whiff of desperation — it seems like something he chose due to a lack of other options. This is the state, after all, where Steve Forbes won two primaries, without that ever altering his reputation as a weak, fringe candidate.

News Journal columnist Al Mascitti reminds Delaware voters of this history, cautioning them in an incautiously worded column titled "If only for state pride, consider the dweeb factor before pulling lever":

Delawareans might not realize it yet, but the upcoming Democratic Party primary could affect the state's reputation as a presidential testing ground for years to come.

As one of seven states holding primaries and caucuses the first Tuesday in February, a week after New Hampshire, Delaware won't get much national attention unless it gives the victory to a long shot like Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman, who has been endorsed by Delaware Sen. Tom Carper.

If that happens, I'm afraid it will reinforce Delaware's budding image as "Friend of the Dweebs."

That impression dates to 1996, when Delaware Republicans delivered an upset win for Steve Forbes, the New Jersey magazine magnate. The source of this support wasn't so much rapture at his proposal for a national "flat tax" as his frequent appearances in the state.

That victory briefly buoyed his flagging candidacy, but Forbes soon became a political nonentity. … In hindsight, winning Delaware didn't help him as much as it hurt us, because now we're forever linked with a guy so dorky he makes George Will look like James Bond. …

If Delaware Democrats stick to this trend of supporting whoever shows up most often, they'll back Lieberman, the candidate paying most attention to the state.

[That would] cement Delaware's image as the state where sinking, unappealing candidates go to stay afloat, because — not to be too unkind about this — Joe Lieberman isn't much more charismatic than Steve Forbes.

That's going to leave a mark. We wince because it's true.

Lieberman may end up winning Delaware, but it's hard to see this catapaulting him on to further success in the primaries. News reports on Feb. 4 will likely emphasize his dismal performance in the other six primaries more than his victory there and Mascitti's prediction will come to pass — it will hurt the state more than it will help the candidate.

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  • John

    Saw Biden on the Daily Show a week ago or so. Said he liked Clark and Kerry. At the time, it sounded like he kind of wanted to endorse Clark, but wouldn’t screw over Kerry like that. But now that Kerry’s back in this thing, an endorsement from Biden would seem plausible. An endorsement of Lieberman seems unlikely.