Posted: Jan. 30, 2006


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

With two weeks left in December, Joseph R. "Beau" Biden III opened an account for his Democratic campaign for attorney general and collected nearly $132,000 in contributions.

The amount was almost double what M. Jane Brady, the three-term Republican attorney general, was able to squirrel away over the past three years, before she quit fund raising in September to bail out of politics for the bench.

Although Brady had said she probably would complete her political life with $70,000 or $80,000 that she would return to contributors or give to charity, she actually had less than that. The 2005 campaign finance report she still was required to file showed she had about $62,000.

It could be taken as a sign that Brady knew what she was doing when she ceded the field to Biden, who still has not drawn a Republican opponent for the 2006 election just more than nine months away.

Biden, a Wilmington lawyer and former federal prosecutor, had fund-raising advantages far beyond a typical rookie candidate -- the political network of his father-the-senator and his party's rising expectations that he can win.

He raised the bulk of his money by tapping into Delaware's deep-pocketed lawyers. Most of his contributors gave $1,200, the limit for statewide candidates.

Year-end campaign finance reports for 2005 have been arriving in the state election commissioner's office since they had to be postmarked by last Monday. The reports are available online at the Web site.

The reports for federal candidates, notably Democratic Sen. Thomas R. Carper and Republican Rep. Michael N. Castle, are filed with the Federal Election Commission and are not due until Tuesday.

Biden's report, showing a quick breakthrough of the $100,000 mark, joins other Democrats' reports as evidence that the traditional Republican money machine has lost much of its ability to intimidate. The Democrats, who hold seven out of the nine statewide offices, are attracting donations like a party in power.

State Treasurer Jack A. Markell, a two-term Democrat who will be on the ballot in November, raised almost $600,000 in 2005, giving him nearly $1.5 million in the bank. That total includes $725,000 he personally lent his campaign, showing he has the political versatility to collect checks or write his own.

Markell does not have a Republican opponent yet, but a treasurer does not raise that kind of money, anyway, simply to get re-elected. It has much more to do with the shadow campaign for the 2008 Democratic gubernatorial nomination, which Lt. Gov. John C. Carney Jr. also wants.

Markell can spend his treasury this year to raise his profile, and whatever is left he can roll into another state race.

Meanwhile, Carney also turned his campaign finance report into a statement indicating he is serious about pushing toward the governor's race. He replenished his account, which was left with about $35,000 in it after he won his second term in 2004, by bringing it up to $202,000.

While the Democrats seemed to be raising money with ease, there was danger on the Republican side -- and not just because of Brady's truncated fund raising. State Auditor R. Thomas Wagner Jr., a Republican who has been in office since 1989, took in only $74,000 in contributions and had to flesh out his account by loaning his campaign $20,000. After expenses, his balance was $86,000.

Wagner, who is up for re-election this year, currently is unopposed, although the Democrats expect Robert B. Wasserbach, their 2002 candidate, to run again. Wagner won that round with 62 percent of the vote.

Wagner never has been known as a prolific fund-raiser, but it did not matter much before. When he won four years ago, Wasserbach was a walk-on who got into the race late and had about $25,000 to spend.

Wagner's total in 2005 contributions looks a lot like the amount collected by Insurance Commissioner Matthew P. Denn, a Democrat who took in almost $72,000.

The difference is that Denn is safely in office for another three years.