Posted: Jan. 28, 2014


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

Endorsements have not exactly gone the way Delaware's political parties want them to.

Governor John Carney and Senator Mike Castle know all about it.

Carney got the endorsement in the Democratic primary for governor in 2008 and lost. Ditto for Castle in the Republican primary for senator in 2010.

It was not so bad for the Democrats. Carney conceded with class, and the Democrats went on to elect Jack Markell as the governor and install Carney two years later as the congressman. This can happen when the voter registration overwhelmingly favors the Democrats over the Republicans.

It was very bad for the Republicans. They have been floundering since Christine O'Donnell stunned Castle in a primary so toxic that Tom Ross, the party chair at the time, declared O'Donnell could not get elected dogcatcher. Whatever, she certainly could not get elected senator, and the Republican regulars and tea partiers have yet to get over it.

The Republicans were so battered, they decided to figure out a way around it.

(Not that they look to be in any danger in 2014. Their situation at this point is not enough candidates, not too many. So far, the party has nobody for senator, representative or attorney general, Tom Wagner for re-election as auditor, and only a chance at a primary for treasurer, if Ken Simpler Jr. is joined in the race by Colin Bonini, a state senator who ran the last time.)

Instead of holding the state convention, where the statewide endorsements are made, in the springtime, the Republicans are moving it to sometime shortly after the primary on Sept. 9.

That will certainly take the suspense out of it.

"The party is not going to get involved in the primary. It's to unify around our ticket going into the fall," said John Fluharty, the state Republicans' executive director.

Neutering a convention seems so counter-intuitive. A party's reach should exceed its grasp, or what is an endorsement for?

"Without an endorsement in a primary, I wonder what the purpose of a party is," said Bill Lee, the retired judge who ran as a Republican for governor.

Lee knows full well the power of a convention. He won a primary in 2004 when he had the party's endorsement and lost in 2000 when he did not. He was also drafted to run for governor at a boisterous convention in 2008 while he was on a family vacation at Disney World.

Without a springtime convention, Lee foresees a cacophony of endorsements from local and regional Republican organizations, along with interest groups, Republican clubs and the tea party.

"The pre-primary situation is going to be chaos, although it does eliminate the awkward moment when the party has endorsed the loser and has to work with the winner," Lee said.

The whole thing smacks of trying to soothe the tea party. "We the People" meet "We the Party."

"Interesting move. Perhaps a way to mend fences with some of the grassroots who remain restive," said Joe Pika, a political science professor at the University of Delaware.

"It also confirms, however, that the party leadership can no longer steer. When and if the grassroots voters disagree with the party leaders, there will be less of a fracture and less public embarrassment," Pika added.

The Democrats, by the way, are showing no signs of changing their endorsement practice. Their statewide candidates seek endorsements at the local and county/city levels, and then it all bubbles up to the state executive committee, which votes to endorse. It can also vote not to endorse anyone.

The Democrats are looking like they will have at least one serious primary this year with Sean Barney, a former gubernatorial aide to Markell and senatorial aide to Tom Carper, getting ready to challenge Chip Flowers, the embattled treasurer.

Otherwise, they have Chris Coons for re-election as senator, Carney for re-election as congressman, Beau Biden for re-election as attorney general and Brenda Mayrack for auditor.

Meanwhile, the Republican post-primary endorsements look destined to be about as energizing as wondering whether Wednesday will follow Tuesday.

Those endorsements are going to be so safe that even the Republicans, as depleted as they are, ought to be able to pull it off.