Posted: Oct. 28, 2004


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

After absorbing weeks of Republican criticism over a gender-tinged lapse in the state prisons and public safety, Gov. Ruth Ann Minner struck back Thursday with fire power from some high-profile fellow Democrats.

U.S. Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Wilmington Mayor James M. Baker joined her for a press conference staged in front of the city's public safety building for visual reinforcement.

"My name's Joe Biden," said one of the most recognizable figures in Delaware, "and I am kind of dumbfounded at some of the recent charges I've heard in this gubernatorial campaign."

Biden said the press conference was his idea, triggered by a political spot from the Republican Governors Association, which accuses Minner of "arrogance and incompetence" in dealing with the hostage-taking and rape of a prison counselor.

Biden said the attack reminded him of the Willie Horton spot used against Michael S. Dukakis, the 1988 Democratic presidential nominee -- hair-raising advertising about a convicted murderer who went on a criminal rampage after getting a weekend furlough from prison in Massachusetts, where Dukakis was the governor.

"There is no governor in my tenure who has done more for women, and there is no governor in my tenure who has done more to support law enforcement," Biden said.

The press conference came as Minner and the Democrats began their own offensive against William Swain Lee, the Republican ex-judge running against her. They began political advertising that questions whether he could be trusted with the state budget because he got into financial and legal troubles over a 30-year-old loan from Farmers Bank.

Furthermore, there appeared to be more at stake at the press conference than a response to critical advertising. To be effective in statewide elections, Delaware Democrats rely on a base of women, minorities and labor unions, and this event clearly was aimed at two of those elements with the attendance of Baker as well as other city Democratic officeholders who are women or African-Americans or both -- state Reps. Helene M. Keeley, Hazel D. Plant and Dennis P. Williams.

"I don't know how you don't care about women," Baker said to Minner. "That would be like telling me I don't care about African-Americans."

Minner also made the point herself. She said she got into politics, running for the state legislature in 1974, because of women's issues -- concerned, for example, that women could not get loans without a man's signature, as she discovered when she needed money to buy a car.

"I've not been working for women?" Minner said.