The District’s first-in-the-nation presidential primary is beginning to anger some New Hampshire Democrats who say party officials here are trying to turn the Jan. 13 “beauty contest” into something it’s not.
“This is not an event where delegates are chosen, and the District of Columbia is not a state. What they are trying to do is to make this into something other than a beauty contest, which does not follow the Democratic National Committee’s rules, and I find that troubling,” said Kathleen Sullivan, chairman of the Democratic Party in New Hampshire, the state that prides itself on holding the nation’s first delegate-selecting primary.
Mrs. Sullivan’s remarks represented the first time a top New Hampshire Democratic official has criticized the District’s upcoming primary.
In a compromise worked out earlier this year between the DNC and New Hampshire officials, the D.C. primary will be held six days before the Jan. 19 Iowa caucuses and 13 days before the New Hampshire primary Jan. 27 — making it the first presidential contest of the year. But the D.C. primary will not choose any delegates. Instead, delegates will be selected at party caucuses Feb. 14.
That agreement seemed acceptable to New Hampshire Democrats. Then Mrs. Sullivan said she read that some Democrats were trying to get at-large delegates — among some 28 party officials called “superdelegates” who automatically go to the convention — to pledge their support to whoever wins the District’s primary.
“I find it troubling that there is apparently an effort being made by some of the people in the District of Columbia to get commitments from the at-large delegates,” she said in a telephone interview with The Washington Times. “I don’t think that trying to somehow manipulate or fudge on the DNC’s rules is the way to go about it.”
But DNC communications director Deborah Desant denied there was any attempt to bend the rules.
“Superdelegates are free to support whomever they wish, whenever they wish. But the fact remains that the system recognized by the DNC has not changed,” she said.
Nevertheless, most of the Democratic candidates said they intend to take the D.C. primary seriously. Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman’s spokesman said, “We intend to have a presence here.” Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean already has begun to put together a political organization among the city’s universities and colleges.
“The governor is going to take it as seriously as any of the other primaries. There has been some interest among City Council members and there have been a number of endorsements,” said Dean campaign spokesman Eric Schmeltzer.
Dean campaign workers were out stumping over the weekend at the Adams Morgan Day Festival 2003 in Northwest.
“Certainly, this venue draws from all the demographics we want to target,” said Kathy Boettrich, volunteer communications director for the grass-roots organization D.C. for Dean, referring to black, Hispanic and homosexual voters.
Bilingual volunteers and Spanish-language campaign literature were abundant at the event. The group started with 1,000 Dean for President stickers but ran out in two hours.
New York civil rights activist Al Sharpton and former Sen. Carol Moseley Braun of Illinois, the only black candidates in the nine-member presidential field, said they hope to do well here because of the city’s large black Democratic electorate.
“Washington, D.C., is certainly more reflective of the nation’s population than Iowa or New Hampshire. It has every race and nationality,” said Mr. Sharpton’s national campaign manager, Frank Watkins.
But other Democrats question whether the D.C. primary will have any impact, unless one of the candidates does extraordinary well, polling 40 percent to 50 percent of the vote.
“I don’t think anybody is going to do exceptionally well here, though I wouldn’t be surprised if Al Sharpton got 20 percent or 25 percent of the vote. But the majority of the voters in the D.C. primary are probably going to be white,” said David Bositis, pollster and senior political analyst at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, which focuses on issues of interest to black voters.
“I frankly don’t anticipate it having much of an impact at all,” Mr. Bositis said.
S.A. Miller contributed to this report.