Posted: Oct. 5, 2005


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

At a private breakfast meeting last week, state Republican Chairman Terry A. Strine gathered leading party members at the University & Whist Club in Wilmington and dropped clues about someone who was thinking about running next year against U.S. Sen. Thomas R. Carper.

Strine promised that this potential candidate would be a star -- not a bad idea, considering that Carper has won more statewide races than anyone else in Delaware politics as a Democratic three-term treasurer, five-term congressman, two-term governor and one-term senator.

Strine only gave hints about who it could be, saying it was someone who had four children, graduated from a top law school and once held high-level positions in Washington.

Hhhmmmmmm. That set off a guessing game.

Was it William E. Manning, a well-regarded lawyer and Republican powerbroker who was a chief of staff for Gov. Pierre S. du Pont in the 1980s? Could it be Colm F. Connolly, the high-profile U.S. attorney? How about Michele M. Rollins, the high-flying business executive behind Dover Downs and a Jamaican vacation resort named Rose Hall?

"Not me," Manning said. He has the requisite four kids, but his law degree is from the University of Louisville, and his government experience was Dover, not D.C.

Connolly, reacting with the same sort of evasiveness he would give to questions about federal investigations, was noncommittal. "No comment," he said.

Under a yellow flag of caution, Connolly was willing to confirm he has four children, and he acknowledged he went to Duke University law school. His only work in Washington, however, was a Senate committee internship he got through U.S. Sen. William V. Roth Jr., the five-term Republican who lost to Carper in 2000. It all makes Connolly close to Strine's description, but not quite.

Rollins? Four kids, yes. A law degree from Georgetown qualifies, too. Her resume mentions her time at the federal Securities & Exchange Commission and the Department of Interior as an assistant solicitor.

It sure sounds like a match. Rollins was in transit from Italy and unavailable for comment, but it is her name that is making the rounds in Republican circles as a possible Senate candidate, once people sorted out Strine's clues. She is said to be struck by the thought of it.

"Her head is turning a bit," said one Republican who knows her well.

Strine would not say. He did not even want to be tied down about the clues he was heard to give -- "when you speak before a group, you don't remember precisely what you said" -- but he did concede it would be fine with him if Rollins were to run.

"Do I think she'd make an attractive candidate? Yes," Strine said.

It would be a huge change for Rollins, a former Miss USA who has been responsible for the family enterprises since the death of her husband of 23 years. John W. Rollins Sr., who was nearly 30 years her senior, died in 2000 at the age of 83.

John Rollins himself was a politically-inclined businessman who grew up poor but made himself a fortune, gathering diehard friends and unforgiving detractors along the way. He was a one-man conglomerate and Republican financier who counted Richard Nixon, Clarence Thomas and Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash as part of his circle. He ran for lieutenant governor in 1952 and won. He ran for governor in 1960 and lost.

Michele Rollins was not the first possible candidate to be courted by the party. Christopher A. Bullock, the energetic pastor of the two-year-old Canaan Baptist Church in Wilmington, appears to have had the initial right of refusal.

"They approached me, and I thought about it and prayed about it and talked to my family and the church leadership. There was a big push, but I declined, because the church is still a very young church," Bullock said. "Maybe next time around."

Strine was more than happy to attest to the party's interest in Bullock. "He would have been quite an incredible candidate. He really is a charismatic leader with great, great ability," he said.

The Republicans actually do have someone who already has declared himself willing to take on Carper. It is Michael D. Protack, an airline pilot who seems to be constitutionally incapable of letting an election pass without putting his name up for the most coveted office on the ballot. He wanted the U.S. Senate nomination in 2002 and the gubernatorial nomination in 2004, without coming close either time.

The Republican leadership is not treating Protack as a fallback candidate. Instead, he seems to be more of a spur for the recruiting drive to carry on.