Posted: Jan. 13, 2011


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

"Delaware Notebook" is a collection of noteworthy items around the state. This edition takes a look at Taxicab Two, the best transportation a Delaware politician can hope for, and the leadership of Pat Murray, the Kent County Republicans' former chair who died Monday.

Sometimes the vice president is renowned as one of the most influential people in the world. Other times he is just a glorified taxi dispatcher.

Air Force Two morphed into a giant flying cab when Joe Biden went to watch the University of Delaware play for the football championship last Friday in Frisco, Texas, and invited people from home for the roundtrip flight from the New Castle County Airport.

Call it Taxicab Two.

Naturally Biden brought along family, including his wife Jill and sister Valerie, both of them Delaware grads like Joe, although Jill gets the bragging rights because she has the doctorate.

There was also room for elements of the state political crowd, regardless of party affiliation or alma mater. Chris Coons, the new Democratic senator, was aboard, as were Ted Kaufman, the Democratic sandwich senator between Biden and Coons, and Mike Castle, the Republican ex-congressman, and not a UD alumnus among them.

Jack Markell, the Democratic governor, took a commercial flight to Texas but switched to Air Veep for the return trip.

Travel time one way was about three hours. The mood was said to be much better on the way there, when the expectation of winning was high, than the way back, after the letdown of blowing a lead and losing 20-19 to Eastern Washington.

The Blue Hens had their wings clipped, but the vice president? Not a chance.

# # #

As a political presence, Pat Murray was rolling thunder. The Kent County Republicans' former chair, who died Monday at 75, had many memorable moments, but the one that probably stands out the most was Primary Day 2000.

The Republicans' endorsed candidate for governor was John Burris, a past majority leader in the state House of Representatives, but as the primary approached, he was losing ground fast to Bill Lee, a retired judge who became a state hero presiding at the murder trial of Tom Capano.

Under Murray, the Kent County Republicans were not so much a political organization as a political army. Murray was retired FBI, and he had overseen the state police as the public safety secretary when Castle was the governor. He knew how to wield force.

The Republican establishment grew increasingly concerned about Burris as Primary Day wore on. Murray responded by flogging out the vote in Kent County. Burris lost New Castle County and Sussex County, but he carried Kent County and pulled out the nomination. He beat Lee by 46 votes.

Murray was hailed as the savior. At least, he seemed to be then. Time has a way of changing perspective in politics.

Burris was trounced in the general election by Ruth Ann Minner, the Democrat moving up from lieutenant governor to governor. When she ran for re-election in 2004, this time against Lee, she barely polled 50 percent of the vote.

The Republicans have wondered ever since if Lee could have taken the governorship in 2000 when it was an open race. Not that anyone blamed Murray. He did what he had to do and did it grandly.

Murray also will be remembered for building up the Kent County Lincoln Day Dinner from a sleepy event to a statewide showpiece, a counterpoint to the Democrats' Jefferson-Jackson Dinner.

Murray could get more than 1,000 Republicans to Dover in the February cold, and there was never a mistake in letting everybody know who made it happen.

Murray would command the lectern like an exuberant Patton. The year he showed up with laryngitis, people did not mind at all.

The way the Republicans have fared more recently, though, they really miss that voice.