- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 12, 2004

D.C. officials called the nonbinding January Democratic primary a “mistake,” reversing their position last year to have the first contest of the campaign season bring attention to the District’s lack of voting rights.

The D.C. Council moved the primary from the first Saturday in May to the second Tuesday in January, but some council members say the Jan. 13 contest didn’t have the desired effect. Coupled with the primary’s presumed failure, the council now is facing the potential embarrassment of someone other than Howard Dean winning tomorrow’s official caucus after grabbing the top spot last month.

Nine members of D.C. Council endorsed the former Vermont governor, but his campaign since has imploded.

Some council members told The Washington Times that the reasons for holding a first-in-the-nation primary — to highlight the District’s lack of congressional voting rights — were good, but combined with the confusion of two caucuses, it was a mistake.

“This is the worst situation we could have put into place, and I think we all agree that we will never do this again,” said Councilman Jim Graham, Ward 1 Democrat.

He said the process has been particularly “volatile” for the members of the council who endorsed Mr. Dean.

“We stumbled through this [primary] with the best of intentions, and it backfired on us because we didn’t get the attention we wanted and we somehow awkwardly outsmarted ourselves,” said Councilman Kevin P. Chavous, Ward 7 Democrat.

The $350,000 price tag for the January election also has left a bitter taste.

Democratic Party Chairman A. Scott Bolden said he is making every effort to enfranchise voters in the election process.

Tomorrow’s caucus will be held from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and voters will be asked to go to one location in each of the city’s eight wards. Candidates must receive support from 15 percent of the voters to secure one of the 10 delegates up for grabs in the caucus.

“Forewarned is forearmed, and I hope this will encourage the elected officials to listen to the party’s concerns in the future,” Mr. Bolden said in response to the comments of council members who voted to move the primary date.

To boot, the field of Democratic presidential candidates has changed dramatically since Jan. 13. Former Sen. Carol Moseley Braun of Illinois, Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut and Rep. Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri have dropped out of the presidential race, with Wesley Clark quitting the campaign this week. The retired general quit after being trounced in Tuesday’s Virginia and Tennessee primaries.

But the changes in the culture of voters could not be more dramatic than for Mr. Dean.

He was labeled as the front-runner in early January when he won the District’s primary with 42 percent of the vote, but he has not won a binding primary or caucus.

Nonetheless, Mr. Graham said he will continue to support Mr. Dean.

“I think loyalty is an important quality, and I will remain loyal to Dean because he was loyal to us,” he said.

Front-runner Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts and second-place contender Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina did not compete in the January nonbinding race and are looking forward to nabbing D.C. delegates. And despite all the D.C. officials’ endorsements, some say Mr. Kerry’s momentum might make it impossible for Mr. Dean to pull off another win here.

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