State prepares for unusual presidential primary

 

From left are candidates Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Ted Cruz, John Kasich and Donald Trump.

From left are candidates Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Ted Cruz, John Kasich and Donald Trump.

DOVER — Delaware residents have given $441,456 to presidential candidates this election cycle, data from the Federal Election Commission shows.

That’s about 47 cents per person, compared to a national average of about $1.87 per individual.

Across the nation, presidential contenders have raised approximately $605 million.

While only North Dakota and South Dakota residents have given less money to those running for the White House, Delaware’s relative lack of spending is hardly unexpected given it ranks above just five states in population.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the front-runner in the Democratic race, has more than doubled any other candidate in terms of donations by Delawareans. But, Republicans as a whole have raised more funds in the First State — a product of the much larger GOP field.

Mrs. Clinton has received about $142,000 from Delawareans. Second is Republican U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, with about $65,000.

A plurality of total donations came from the Wilmington area.

The greatest allowable contribution varies based on who is donating (a person or committee) and whether they’re giving to a candidate directly, a political party or an unaffiliated organization, but for someone simply donating to a candidate, the maximum is $2,700.

Delaware also has been largely devoid of advertising or voter lobbying from independent groups, or super PACs, thus far. FEC records show about $21,300 has been spent in Delaware, all by conservative groups. $5,900 is recorded as having been spent mostly in small increments of less than $500 opposing Secretary Clinton through phone calls and mailers.

Keep the Promise, a group that has expended millions nationwide to bolster Sen. Cruz, spent about $13,100 in Delaware supporting the conservative lawmaker who has become the preferred option for many Republicans opposed to GOP front-runner Donald Trump. Security Is Strength PAC spent a little more than $2,300 in November supporting Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who has since dropped out.

While many Delawareans have not yet determined who they will support in the presidential primary, the clock is ticking: Delaware goes to the polls April 26, along with four other states.

Though the state is small, carrying 31 total delegates for the Democrats and 16 on the Republican side, the contested nature of the primaries means, in the words of the state GOP chairman, “Every delegate is going to count.”

That chairman, Charlie Copeland, issued a call last month for Republican candidates to visit the First State.

Now, with 23 days until the primary, excitement is mounting. Candidates are increasing their efforts in the state. Both organized efforts from the candidates and grassroots pushes from unaffiliated but inspired Americans are mounting as Delaware’s day in the sun approaches.

While no candidates currently have known visits scheduled, there remains time for some to lobby here.

“All three campaigns are looking into it and trying to make it happen,” Mr. Copeland said of the Republican contenders.

Four years ago, GOP candidates Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney, the eventual 2012 nominee, spent time in the state. In 2008, the then U.S. Sen. Barack Obama made a stop in Wilmington.

Campaigns and grassroots

The Clinton campaign recently hired as state director Gov. Jack Markell’s press secretary, Courtney McGregor, who formerly worked for the state Democratic party.

The campaign is building its grassroots, connecting with local Democratic organizations like the University of Delaware College Democrats, as well as with labor unions.

Five of Delaware’s 10 superdelegates publicly have backed Ms. Clinton: Gov. Markell, Sens. Tom Carper and Chris Coons, Rep. John Carney and former state House Speaker Robert Gilligan.

“Delawareans want a president who will fight to break down the barriers that hold them and their families back, which is why we will leave no stone unturned in organizing voters to support Hillary Clinton in the April 26 primary,” Ms. McGregor said in a statement.

“We will conduct phone banks, canvasses and other organizing activities and leverage the support of Gov. Markell, the entire congressional delegation and more leaders from across the First State to build on the enthusiasm and momentum Hillary is already seeing here. We will work hard for every vote and do all we can to make sure Delaware does its part to secure the Democratic nomination for Hillary so she can go on to become the president that fights for us.”

Gov. Markell’s office said there are preliminary plans for the governor to participate in a campaign event.

The campaign for Ohio Gov. John Kasich, now a distant third in the GOP race, plans to open an office in Delaware within a few days and has begun planning its grassroots efforts.

The campaign is building a database of volunteers who can go door-knocking and make phone calls, state campaign Chairman Michael Fleming said.

Mr. Fleming, of Wilmington, formerly worked for U.S. Sen. Bill Roth, a Delaware Republican who worked 34 years on Capitol Hill, and he has volunteered on other campaigns in recent years.

Gov. Kasich’s efforts in Delaware are very focused, Mr. Fleming said, pointing to the governor’s “grace” and “absolutely superb record.”

Other members of the Delaware leadership team include Thomas Evans, who represented Delaware in the U.S. House for six years, Hockessin state Rep. Deborah Hudson and former state party executive director John Fluharty.

“The Cruz-Trump conversation has been so violent that I think sort of rational, reasonable, conservative Republicans are going to come down on Kasich’s side,” said Mr. Fluharty, who has worked on previous presidential campaigns and describes himself as a GOP strategist.

Both Mr. Fluharty and Mr. Fleming are hopeful Gov. Kasich visits Delaware and said they have heard little from the Cruz and Trump campaigns in Delaware.

Mr. Trump’s White House bid has been notable for the grassroots support he has received despite campaign activities and infrastructure lagging behind other candidates.

Rob Arlett, a first-term Sussex County councilman, is a vocal backer of Mr. Trump, saying an outsider is needed in Washington. He cites the billionaire’s business background and focus on the U.S.-Mexico border as reasons for his enthusiastic support.

“I don’t always agree with how things are being said, but for me, I’m looking beyond personality and I’m looking at principles and a message,” he said.

Mr. Arlett recently accepted an offer to join the campaign team in Delaware, an opportunity that arose because of a relative he has working with the Trump campaign in Virginia.

Elsewhere in Delaware’s southernmost county, state Sen. Brian Pettyjohn, R-Georgetown, was part of GOP candidate Carly Fiorina’s Delaware team before she ended her bid. He currently is weighing the three candidates who are “all about equal” in his mind.

Like many others, Sen. Pettyjohn wants to see candidates visit Delaware.

“To be able to have some specific questions for our area, for our region, would be extremely helpful,” he said.

Sen. Gregory Lavelle, R-Sharpley, headed U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio’s campaign team for a few months before the Florida Republican dropped out. Now, Sen. Lavelle is “happily undecided,” although he is, like many Republicans nationwide, rooting against Mrs. Clinton.

Some local Democrats are feeling the “Bern” as well.

U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who trails Secretary Clinton 1,712-1,011 in delegates, has received strong grassroots support among some Delawareans.

Phil Pollner coordinated with the Sanders campaign to help get the 500 signatures needed to put Sen. Sanders on the ballot. The Newark resident has been working with several dozen others to go door to door and make phone calls, and he said most people have been very receptive to Sen. Sanders and his positions.

The senator, a self-described “socialist democratic independent,” has energized many with his calls for financial reform and universal health care.

“He’s the kind of guy I fought for in World War II and Korea,” Bear resident Floyd McDowell said.

Mr. Pollner said he will not be able bring himself to support Secretary Clinton should she win the nomination — he’ll write in the Vermont senator instead.

Though he is admittedly biased, he said he has not seen grassroots movements for any other candidate.

There are several websites and Facebook pages that urge Delawareans to get involved and support specific candidates, but Sen. Sanders appears to lead the way in that category.

University of Delaware junior Hirak Mukhopadhyay, the president of UD College Democrats, believes members of the organization slightly favor Sen. Sanders over Secretary Clinton.

Millennials — those born between the early 1980s and 2000 — “are more conscious of their surroundings” and tend to support Sen. Sanders’ record on the environment, financial reform and LGBT rights, Mr. Mukhopadhyay said.

Though he is aware of two students who spent their winter break in New Hampshire helping the Clinton campaign, most who get involved do so indirectly, Mr. Mukhopadhyay said.

Fellow UD junior Andrew Lipman, president of the Delaware Federation of College Republicans, said the college Republican group has “a plurality of Ted Cruz supporters,” with Mr. Trump and Gov. Kasich not far behind.

The organization has supported all the campaigns, and individual members have gotten involved backing candidates. It also assists the state party and the College Republican National Committee.

“It’s a fun time to be involved,” Mr. Lipman said.

In this Year of Trump, some have questioned whether the businessman could win the general election.

Sen. Cruz recently announced he would not support Mr. Trump should the billionaire win the party’s nomination. Mr. Fluharty said he is unsure if Republicans who did not back Mr. Trump would vote for him in the general election.

He personally says he disagrees with many of Mr. Trump’s comments and actions but he has been involved with the GOP for 30 years and always has backed Republicans.

For him, an equally important question is whether or not those who supported Mr. Trump would vote for Sen. Cruz or Gov. Kasich in the general election.

Mr. Copeland, the state party chairman, expects Republicans to unite against the Democratic nominee.

“The country is somewhat in the balance,” he opined.

Saturday was the deadline to register to vote, although military and overseas citizens have until April 11.

Because the state has a closed primary, Republicans can vote only for a Republican candidate and Democrats can vote only for a Democratic candidate. Members of the GOP will have six candidates to choose from ­— with a catch.

Three of those six Republican hopefuls have dropped out of the race, but they have not filed paperwork to be officially removed, Election Commissioner Elaine Manlove said. As a result, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson still can receive votes and even delegates, Ms. Manlove said.

On the Democratic side, Secretary Clinton, Sen. Sanders and California businessman Roque De La Fuente will be listed on the ballot.

Delaware has 16 Republican delegates, all of whom will be awarded to the leading vote-getter. For Democrats, there are 21 delegates awarded proportionally, as well as 10 super delegates who can choose to back whomever they wish.

Delaware Republicans will meet April 30 to select their delegates to the summer national convention, and Democrats will do the same one week later.

Reach staff writer Matt Bittle at mbittle@newszap.com

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