Posted: Feb. 3, 2010


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

What happened in 2009 did not stay in 2009. Decisions that Delaware politicians made in the off-year are shaping their fate for the 2010 election year.

Maybe there was nothing as dramatic as the decision by that South Carolina governor who has to wish he really did go hiking on the Appalachian Trail, but this is Delaware. Making waves has its place here, but it is the beach, not politics.

EARLY BIRD SPECIAL. There is something counterintuitive about starting a comeback by going after the office held by the most successful Republican in state history, but it is what John Carney did.

Carney, the former lieutenant governor, had a bad 2008. He lost the Democratic primary for governor and was stiffed by his own governor for the Senate appointment when Joe Biden moved to vice president.

Carney did not sulk. He said he would run for the congressional seat occupied by Republican Mike Castle before anyone -- Castle included -- knew what Castle would do, whether it would be running for the Senate, re-election or retiring.

Carney was locked in. It paid off, as Castle opted for the Senate race and Carney was insulated from whatever Beau Biden decided to do.

Now Carney has a half-million dollars in his campaign account while the Republicans are fielding only a candidate-to-be-named-later.

He is where he is because of what is arguably the smartest political move of 2009.

A MODERATE PROPOSAL. Hamlet had no equal until Mike Castle came along with his political soliloquy, to-run-or-not-to-run.

Once he decided, it became one of the best opportunities for the Republicans to pick up a Senate seat. It also gave Castle a fair shot at the state's most elite tier, reserved for officeholders who made it to congressman, governor and senator.

Republican Cale Boggs did it mid-20th Century, Democrat Tom Carper is doing it now, and Federalist Daniel Rodney did it with an asterisk in the 19th Century by getting himself elected congressman and governor and appointed senator.

If Castle goes to the Senate, he could find himself in the company of other Northeast Republicans, namely Scott Brown of Massachusetts and Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine.

In the fractured Senate, it could be a voting bloc with power -- wielded moderately, of course.

POLITICAL LOOPHOLE. Ferris Wharton came up short in 2006 as the Republican candidate for attorney general against Beau Biden. The Republicans wanted Wharton to run again in 2010, and so did he -- but with one condition.

No Biden.

Wharton made clear he was not in unless Biden was out. Now Biden is running for re-election, and Wharton can walk away.

A campaign can be like a trial. Wharton has spent too many years in a courtroom to know better than to re-try a case if the verdict is unlikely to change. Ditto for election returns.

Who knew Wharton also spent enough time in politics to figure out it is always a good idea to have an escape clause?

ON SECOND THOUGHT. Before Velda Jones-Potter made her mark in finance, she was in engineering. She got herself stuck in a box, anyway.

When Gov. Jack Markell appointed her to finish his term as treasurer, she said she would not run for the office. Now she is. Her hesitation brought her a Democratic primary opponent, a Republican candidate who already has banked more than $100,000 for the campaign, and not much of a lifeline from Markell.

The governor said, "I don't want to get involved in primaries, but obviously I appointed her and think she's doing a good job."

If politics was any more unforgiving, it would be an assistant principal.

TED "TECUMSEH" KAUFMAN. The Democrats knew where not to look for a Senate candidate when Beau Biden said he was not running. From the day Ted Kaufman was appointed as Joe Biden's replacement, he insisted he would be gone in two years.

"I will not seek election for the balance of the term," Kaufman said.

There is an expression in politics -- to "Sherman out." It is a reference to William Tecumseh Sherman, the Civil War general who took himself out of presidential consideration by declaring, "If nominated, I will not accept. If drafted, I will not run. If elected, I will not serve."

For a century and a half, people could "Sherman out" of the presidency. Now they can "Kaufman out" of the Senate, too. More famous last words.