Posted: Oct. 20, 2006


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

The wrong Thomas R. Carper showed up Friday at Delaware State University in Dover to present a federal grant -- $115,000 from the Department of Agriculture -- for small-business development.

U.S. Sen. Tom Carper was invited to participate, as is proper, but Candidate Tom Carper, the Democrat running for re-election, was the one who went.

The announcement that he would be there came from his campaign office, the one that trumpets, "Tom Carper, Leadership that Works," and not from his Senate office. Oops.

The local agriculture agency is not in the business of boosting candidacies, especially not when the administration is Republican and the candidate is a Democrat, and especially not when Marlene B. Elliott is in charge.

Elliott, the state director for the Department of Agriculture, is a straight shooter, but more than that, she used to be a senior aide for U.S. Sen. William V. Roth Jr., the Republican whom Carper defeated in 2000.

Bygones can be bygones, but there are limits.

Elliott said the presentation at Delaware State was an event held by her office. The members of the congressional delegation were invited, and Carper accepted.

"We were absolutely there in an official capacity. He was our guest," Elliott said.

Carper's campaign defended its involvement. "It's standard procedure to release things through a campaign. We checked with our attorneys, and there's nothing wrong with it," said Emily Cunningham, the press secretary.

With the election so close on Nov. 7, the announcement came through the campaign to avoid the perception that Carper was using his taxpayer-funded Senate office to promote his candidacy, Cunningham said.

Instead, there was the opposite perception -- that taxpayer dollars from the Department of Agriculture were being used to promote his candidacy.

Carper, a former two-term governor, is running for a second Senate term against Republican Jan C. Ting and a minor-party candidate.

Carper has 18 days left until Election Day to worry about separating what belongs with his Senate office and what belongs with his campaign office. He has a chance to try again next Friday, when he is scheduled to appear with the local agriculture agency in connection with Habitat for Humanity in Georgetown.

"That also will be an official event," Elliott said.