Posted: Jan. 5, 2012


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

The calendar had not even turned to 2012 before aspects of the Delaware Republicans were in full primary mode.

No surprise where it broke out. The new seat, created by redistricting for the state Senate in Sussex County, where the infighting is a reprise in miniature of the deadly split between the party regulars and the tea partiers from the 2010 campaign season.

It cost the Republicans the U.S. Senate seat two years ago, because of the primary that Mike Castle and the regulars lost to Christine O'Donnell and the tea partiers, and it could cost them a state Senate seat this time.

They are arguing over endorsements in this new 6th Senate District, which takes in Milton, Lewes, Rehoboth Beach and Dewey Beach.

No election was ever won by endorsements alone, but they do matter to the extent that they can bring a certain amount of credibility, and credibility can lead to contributions and votes, especially in a small state where everybody expects to know everybody else.

The jostling opened with a press release from Ernie Lopez, the candidate with a whole host of ties to party regulars.

There is family. His wife Janis is the granddaughter of Pete Hughes, a former state senator from the 1970s and early 1980s. There is a network. Lopez has been adopted by the remnants of the political circle surrounding the late Bill Roth, the U.S. senator.

Not to forget, there are also the political dues, which Lopez paid by running upstate for New Castle County Council president in 2004. This was before the University of Delaware, his employer, transferred him downstate to Sussex County.

Shortly after Lopez declared for office in December, he trotted out a press release announcing his endorsement by four past Sussex Republican chairs, namely, Dave Burris, Phyllis Byrne, Bill Lee and Ron Sams.

It got a rise out of Glen Urquhart, the tea partier in the race.

Urquhart's tea party standing comes most prominently from being the other half of the tag team, along with O'Donnell, to run for federal office, in his case after winning the 2010 congressional primary against Michele Rollins, the business executive (who happens to own a vacation home in the new senatorial district.)

In addition, Urquhart surfaced as the Sussex Republican chair as part of a tea party coup forcing out Ron Sams last year, a post Urquhart resigned once he announced his new candidacy.

Urquhart upped the endorsement ante. He told the Cape Gazette, the local newspaper, that he was being endorsed by Pete du Pont, the former governor with iconic status among Republicans.

Ah, there is nothing like the old game of mine-is-bigger-than-yours.

It is provoked further by the question of whether Urquhart even has one. This looks like a case of a phantom endorsement from du Pont.

The situation is not the sort that people want to dignify by being quoted by name, so it will have to suffice for the explanation to come from a figure insisting on being identified as Someone Who Knows What He Is Talking About.

Du Pont did say he would endorse Urquhart. But this assumed Urquhart was running against a Democrat, not another Republican in a primary.

"It's just not the case that Pete du Pont is endorsing Glen Urquhart over Ernie Lopez," said Someone Who Knows What He Is Talking About.

"Pete du Pont will not endorse in a primary. That should not be a headline. He does not pick sides in a Republican legislative primary, and he is not about to now. He will endorse the winner. Quite frankly, he's comfortable with both."

Urquhart had nothing to say. At least, he did not return voice and e-mail messages asking if he did.

Lopez noted he has had du Pont's endorsement before. "In 2004 he endorsed us, he made phone calls for us. Let me put it this way, he proofread my announcement speech," he said.

All of this, while Andy Staton waits as the Democrats' candidate, visions of being the next Chris Coons dancing in his head. Sussex tends to like its candidates Republican, but this new district was drawn by the state Senate's Democratic majority to have a thousand more Democratic than Republican voters in it, so Republicans beware.

Nor does the wrangling over Republican endorsements end with du Pont. Apparently there has also been erroneous talk saying Urquhart was endorsed by Dale Wolf, the former lieutenant governor who briefly became governor, so much so that Wolf felt compelled to put out a statement.

"I want to be very clear that I have not endorsed Mr. Urquhart, and at this particular time, I have not endorsed either candidate," Wolf wrote.

Wolf, elevated from lieutenant governor when Castle left early for the congressional seat, spent 20 days as governor from Dec. 31, 1992 until Jan. 19, 1993. Wolf signed his statement as "Governor of Delaware, 1992-1993."

How perfect. Like the endorsement from du Pont, it looks like another inflated claim.