Posted: Jan. 7, 2008


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

The first press release popped up Monday at 9:24 a.m. It was from Jack Markell, the Democratic state treasurer who is running for governor, declaring by e-mail that he was backing Barack Obama for president.

Matt Denn, the Democratic insurance commissioner who is running for lieutenant governor, followed three hours later with a blog entry on his campaign Web site to say he was endorsing Obama, too.

By mid-afternoon it was Ted Blunt, the Wilmington Democratic council president who also is running for lieutenant governor, on the telephone to line up with Obama.

Oba-mania, more movement than politics, was storming into Delaware, even before most of the Democratic establishment was finished with its semi-official mourning for Joe Biden's entombed campaign, a casualty of the same Iowa caucuses that turned Obama into a force last Thursday.

The Democratic regulars stuck loyally with Biden while his candidacy lasted, but it did not take long for them to start pivoting elsewhere, not with Delaware's own presidential primary a month away on Feb. 5, and, oh brother, not with something like all this Obama phenomena out there.

Even before the endorsements started flowing in, a Delaware organization for Obama already was stirring itself to life over the weekend, its prime mover being "Stormin'" Norman Oliver, a Wilmington Democratic ex-councilman who was the key contact for Al Sharpton in 2004.

"We had to wait. All of us were supporting Joe Biden, because it was the right thing to do -- with his civil rights record and all that he's done for the state," Oliver said.

Other city-based officials -- including state Rep. Hazel Plant and Councilwomen Stephanie Boulden and Hanifa Shabazz -- are going with Obama, too, Oliver said.

The political terrain is shifting so much -- last week Markell was in Iowa as part of Biden's phone bank -- that the good-byes to Biden were delivered in the same statements as the hellos to Obama.

Here is Markell in his press release: "I was in Iowa the day of the caucuses working for Sen. Biden. I'm disappointed that his campaign has come to an end, because I am confident he would have been an outstanding president.

"While in Iowa, I saw firsthand the profound call for change from Iowa voters that Sen. Obama's campaign answered. Delaware's voters are calling for change, as well."

Denn's blog entry was similar: "I was backing Joe Biden to be our next president of the United States. I still think that if he had the money of some of the other candidates in Iowa, he would have received enough votes to be barnstorming through New Hampshire right now.

"I am supporting Barack Obama to become our party's nominee in 2008. All four of the remaining Democratic candidates would be great presidents -- nobody cared enough to ask me four years ago, but if they had, I would have told them I was supporting John Edwards -- but I think Sen. Obama's thoughtfulness, candor, charisma and ability to bring people together will make him a great candidate and an even greater president."

Blunt said the local caucus of black officials met before the holidays to decide to go with Obama if Biden bowed out. "Obama is an indication that maybe we're growing up as a country. I like the whole notion of him bringing people into the fold," he said.

Markell jumped so fast to Obama that he did not take the time to tip off party leaders before he did. He said his endorsement was accelerated because he wanted to make it before the New Hampshire primary on Tuesday, but it sure seemed to come with a whiff of politics that had to do with his rivalry with Lt. Gov. John Carney for the Democratic nomination for governor.

It looked like a show of independence from the party establishment for Markell to try to define himself as the Delaware version of the candidate for change -- no small thing with Alan Levin, the likely Republican gubernatorial candidate, lumping Carney and Markell together as an echo of a feeble status quo by calling them "Minner II" and "Minner Lite."

Markell's tactics did not register with Levin as anything like Oba-mania. "Whatever," Levin said.