PAWTUCKET – Yes, most of the excitement and suspense of the presidential primary process has fizzled out now that Mitt Romney is the presumptive Republican nominee to challenge Democratic President Obama in November. But Rhode Island is going ahead with its primary on Tuesday.
President Obama is unopposed on the Democratic side, but there is a column for uncommitted delegates.
Despite the fact that several candidates have dropped out, there will be five names on the ballot, along with an uncommitted column. Remaining on the Rhode Island ballot are Romney and Texas Rep. Ron Paul, both of whom campaigned in the state recently; former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum; former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, and former Louisiana Gov. Buddy Roemer, who is now running for the nomination of the Americans Elect and Reform Party.
The reason Tuesday’s primary is still relevant in the Ocean State – primaries will also be held in Connecticut, New York, Pennsylvania and Delaware – is to choose delegates to the Democratic and Republican conventions.
Republicans and Democrats have different delegate selection rules.
Of the 42 delegates Rhode Island will send to the Democratic convention, only 22 of them – 11 from each congressional district -- will be chosen by primary voters on Tuesday, others, including two alternates, will be selected by party leaders. By contrast GOP voters on Tuesday will pick 16 – eight in each congressional district -- of the 19 Rhode Island delegates and all 16 alternates.
Pawtucket resident Herbert Weiss, the city’s economic and cultural affairs officer, is on the ballot as an Obama delegate this year.
He thinks of winning a spot at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, this September as a chance to scratch one item off his “bucket list. I think it would be an interesting thing to do. It was always in the back of my mind to do it. It’s a life experience, something to tell the kids and grandkids about.”
Weiss did run for a spot as an uncommitted delegate in 2008.
“Even though I would love to have it happen,” Weiss said of becoming a delegate, “to me the journey is the fun part. Going in and filling out the declaration and then going out to collect signatures.”
Potential candidates had less than a week to gather 150 valid signatures during the last week of February to win a spot on the ballot Weiss said he gathered “99.9 percent” of his signatures by himself, but had help collecting a few. He stood outside a supermarket, one of the more popular spots for candidates looking to fill nomination papers with signatures, canvassed the diners at a local breakfast restaurant and went door-to-door in his neighborhood, including Pawtucket’s dog park. He said he is making heavy use of Facebook and other social media to get word of his candidacy out.
“Obama’s the only candidate on the ballot and I strongly feel as a Democrat that there needs to be support for the sitting president,” Weiss said. “He’s had to work very hard on the economic downturn that came about from a Republican administration. I think the president reached out from the beginning of this administration to get all the parties working together” to address the country’s economic problems.
Julie Meyers, also of Pawtucket, is making a second bid to be a delegate as well this year.
Four years ago, when she was still a newcomer in the city, Meyers said she was “swept up with the whole Obama thing. I thought he would make a fantastic president and I was enthusiastic about his campaign and had done some campaigning for him in a couple of other states.
“I just decided it would be a cool thing to do,” she said.
Because she was an Obama delegate in a state where Democrats went heavily for Hillary Clinton, Meyers did not make the cut in 2008. She just missed, however, four Obama delegates got to go to Denver from Rhode Island and Meyers was fifth in the vote count.
She sees her chances as better this time, as she is a delegate for the incumbent and she was lucky enough to secure a coveted high spot on the ballot, she was chosen second in the lottery conducted by Secretary of State Ralph Mollis earlier this year.
Myers said she had been leaning against a second run this year but a friend, Ann Connor, wanted to make a bid and convinced Meyers to go along. She said it’s been a “fun thing” campaign together.
She thinks it sets an example to others that “just a regular person can do this, without having any real political background, just an interest.”
Another Pawtucketer on Tuesday’s ballot is Republican stalwart Lester Olson.
Olson wants to be a Rick Santorum delegate in the Republicans’ held at Tampa Bay, Florida, in
“While Santorum has suspended his campaign,” Olson said Thursday. “he did not direct the state organizations to stop campaigning or release his delegates. So I am still encouraging people to vote for me.”
Like Weiss and Meyers, Olson has never attended his party’s convention, although he ran twice before as a Ronald Reagan delegate.
A year ago, Olson said, he had a “dream ticket” comprised of South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint and Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, but DeMint never really entered the race and Bachmann dropped out early. He said he settled on Santorum after a “process of elimination. “Romney lurches from one position to another, seemingly for political expediency. That leads me to have a lack of trust in him. I don’t really believe his conservative voice, I don’t think he believes it either, sometimes. Newt Gingrich has a lot of baggage, I don’t think it’s going to work. Ron Paul scares me in terms of some of his foreign policy and defense posture. I think he still lives in the 17th century.
“I think Santorum pretty much epitomizes the views that I have across the conservative spectrum of ideas,” Olson said.