COMMENTARY: Lamenting Delaware’s presidential primary position

Delaware’s experience with presidential primaries has been inconsistent since the conversion to same in 1996. Even with the battles of yore, it seemed that Delaware mattered in the sequence of contests held in quadrennial years.

But numbers don’t lie: Delaware’s place in the 2016 presidential nomination period promises little excitement and less consequence.

In Delaware’s maiden presidential primary in 1996, state party leaders decided to hold the event just four days after New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation primary. After being blackmailed by officials from the Granite State, who insisted on a seven-day window following that state’s primary, only one candidate ventured to the First State.

When Delaware Democratic officials repeated the same scheduling tactic in 2000, the results was disastrous: state Democrats held a combined non-binding primary and caucus, and Republicans held a primary on a separate day from Democrats. The 2004 presidential primary was only contested in the Democratic Party.

Dr. Samuel B. Hoff

Dr. Samuel B. Hoff

Probably the most successful Delaware presidential primary was held in 2008. First, the event was contested in both parties, as that year saw an open election. Further, the date of the primary was still early in the process, Feb. 5. Partly as a result of the latter two features, primary election turnout that year was very impressive: 38 percent for Democrats and 28 percent for Republicans. In that year, Delaware’s share of total party delegates available included 1.67 percent for Republicans and 1.11 percent for Democrats.

Unquestionably, Delaware regressed in the 2012 presidential primary. Rather than holding the event in February as had been done in all previous years, it took place on April 27. With President Obama running for re-election, only the Republican primary was contested. Turnout was 15 percent, lower than the combined average of all previous years, which was 19 percent.

Unfortunately, Delaware’s 2016 presidential primary looks like a sad repeat of 2012, maybe worse. The primary is going to be held on April 26. By then, more than 65 percent of Democratic Party delegates and almost 73 percent of Republican delegates available in the nomination will have been committed to a candidate.

Fully 14 different dates with multiple and single-state events will transpire before Delaware’s presidential primary, which is mixed in with those of Connecticut, Maryland, Rhode Island, and Pennsylvania. One might call the upcoming event the “non-Royal” primary, alluding to the colonial history of the states. Finally, Delaware’s share of party delegates is depressingly low: 0.67 percent for Democrats — including non-committed delegates — and 0.68 percent for Republicans.

With the national parties now protecting the February lineup of states holding presidential nomination contests, it would have been another fiasco to attempt to crash the party again.

However, Delaware party officials could have demanded a better position without incurring the wrath of national party sanctions at the respective nominating conventions next summer, one which may have prevented the sleeper we are about to witness.

Dr. Samuel B. Hoff is George Washington Distinguished Professor of History and Political Science and Law Studies director at Delaware State University. He has taught and published extensively on the presidential election process and is an eight-time independent candidate for U.S. president.

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