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GOTV, Not Nomination, Is Main Focus of Tuesday’s Primary

Even as local voting rights advocates led a flurry of get-out-the-vote activities in the final weekend before Washington, D.C.’s Democratic presidential primary, many were already looking beyond Tuesday’s action to the next step in their campaign for Congressional representation.

“We intend to be very visible and well coordinated throughout this whole season,” said D.C. Shadow Sen. Paul Strauss (D), one of three locally elected officials who lobbies for statehood and voting representation.

Although the immediate focus for the D.C. Democratic Party has been on achieving high voter turnout in Tuesday’s non-binding, first-in-the-nation primary, Chairman A. Scott Bolden acknowledged the group is looking ahead to the Feb. 14 ward caucuses and March 6 delegate selection, where local Democrats will officially commit to one of the nine Democratic candidates.

“We have used January 13 for our get-out-the-vote launching pad for the … binding primary caucuses and the delegate caucuses,” Bolden said.

While many of the District’s 28 additional superdelegates, who are elected city officials and party leaders, have vowed to support the primary winner, the contest is essentially non-binding; the Democratic National Committee had threatened not to recognize a majority of the District’s delegates at the 2004 nominating convention if the city usurped the Iowa caucuses or the New Hampshire primary.

“January 13 counts because of the voting rights issue,” Bolden added. “February 14 counts because our delegates are at stake.”

And despite the withdrawal of five of the major candidates — only ex-Sen. Carol Moseley Braun, former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, Rep. Dennis Kucinich (Ohio) and the Rev. Al Sharpton will appear on the D.C. ballot — voting rights advocates still insist the primary has served as a successful publicity tool.

“The city has taken a less-than-perfect vehicle and made something really important out of it because it is getting a bigger and bigger bang every day from the unavoidable fact that the first official ballots will be cast not in New Hampshire and not in Iowa but in the District of Columbia,” said D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D), who occupies the city’s lone Congressional seat. “That has forced the press to focus on this primary and the purpose that the primary is serving.”

Sean Tenner, political director of D.C. Democracy Fund, a federal political action committee that led the movement to push up the city’s primary date, echoed Norton’s sentiment.

“It’s already been a success before the first votes have been cast because of the national attention we’ve turned to it,” Tenner said.

In the meantime, activists and local Democrats are also focusing on the drive to create a permanent, binding January primary in the District.

“We may be able to have this primary become much more meaningful in future years as we go along,” said Shadow Rep. Ray Browne (D).

Added Bolden: “The next step to be the first presidential primary … [is to] start planning and strategizing for 2008 so that the issue of timing and rules and other technicalities won’t be a procedural bar to the substantive issue of bringing attention to our lack of voting rights.”

In addition to lobbying within the DNC to solidify its first-in-the-nation status, Bolden said the local organization will “engage in high-risk political tactics” to keep Congressional representation in the public consciousness.

“We’ve got to push the envelope and look at unconventional means of protest and politics … to make sure that these issues do not continue to marinate on the agenda without being moved off the agenda,” Bolden said.

The D.C. Statehood Green Party will also hold its primary Tuesday. The District’s Republican Party will not participate in the primary but will hold a caucus Feb. 10.

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