Posted: Jan. 6, 2011


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

This was the wreckage of the Delaware Republican Party. An ex-congressman trying to help an ex-legislator win a special election in a county where more than half the voters are Democrats.

It was on display Thursday morning at a breakfast hosted by Mike Castle, the ex-congressman, for Tom Kovach, the ex-legislator running for president of the New Castle County Council.

Christine O'Donnell did not attend.

For the 75 or so people who did, the breakfast was held in Wilmington at the University & Whist Club. It is an old pile of a private club, and heaven only knows whether it is the state Republicans or private clubs with the better chance of regaining popularity, although possibly it could be spats.

The mood was so sober, a speaker would not have been out of place by saying, "Hi, I'm Mike, and I'm a Delaware Republican."

The last election was such a bloodbath, the Democrats now hold eight of the nine statewide offices, everything but auditor, and the majority in both chambers of the General Assembly.

As Larry Sabato, the director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, put it, "The Delaware Republican Party is barely functional after the disastrous candidacy of 2010 Senate nominee Christine O'Donnell sunk the GOP ticket."

A comeback has to start from somewhere, and the Republicans will try next Thursday in the special election with Kovach, a Brandywine Hundred lawyer who was a state representative until he lost his seat in November after one term.

Kovach is running against Tim Sheldon, a Democratic councilman, to replace Paul Clark, the Democrat who moved up to county executive after Chris Coons went to the U.S. Senate.

One thing the Republicans have not forgotten how to do is ask for money. A ticket to the breakfast cost $150, payable to Kovach's campaign, but the invitation noted that checks made out to the state party also would be accepted up to the maximum contribution under law. That would be $30,000.

This special election has been all but dormant, because of exhaustion from the 2010 campaign and also because of the holidays, not to mention it just does not feel right to have an election scheduled on a Thursday.

It is such a stealth election, the Republicans would like to believe they can sneak Kovach into office, even though the Democrats have a 2-1 edge in voter registration in the county. At least, O'Donnell will not be on the ticket, too.

"We all know the turnout will be low," Castle said. "This needs to be the resurgence of the Republican Party. This is our opportunity. We need to bind together to get it done."

The problem with the Republicans is they have not even been able to get out of their own way.

They envisioned a statewide ticket with Castle for senator, Michele Rollins for congresswoman, Colin Bonini for treasurer and Tom Wagner for re-election as auditor, figuring three or even four of them could win in a Republican year, but O'Donnell took care of that.

They had a chance at legitimate influence in the state Senate by banding with some rebel Democrats to elect a president pro tem, but Bonini broke with the other Senate Republicans to provide the deciding vote to keep Tony DeLuca.

They will try now with Kovach, fashioning him as a foil to the county government where taxes have gone up with the Democrats in charge and suspicions of conflict persist about a county executive whose wife is a land-use lawyer.

"We have a responsibility to try to get him elected. It's not going to happen if we all leave this breakfast in an hour or so and wander off to work," Castle said.

"I don't have a job, by the way."

There is a line in All the King's Men, a novel by Robert Penn Warren about corrupt Depression-era politics in the Deep South. It is an observation by Willie Stark, the governor who is no stranger to corruption himself, and it sort of sums up where the Delaware Republicans are now.

"You have to make the good out of the bad because that is all you have got to make it out of."