Posted: Oct. 9, 2007


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

The candidates for governor are playing a political peek-a-boo.

There is a flash of them, here, there or anywhere, for a vivid and vivacious impression of a handshake, a wave or a smile, at a parade, a fall festival or a tailgate party, all anchored with the occasional Serious Speech, and then they vamoose.

At least, that is what the voters are seeing. The candidates are doing just enough to remind the public that they are there, yet not too intrusive with more than a year to go until the election.

John Carney, the Democratic lieutenant governor, shaves off his mustache, raising eyebrows and attention. Jack Markell, the Democratic treasurer, gets set to toss the coin Saturday at the University of Delaware's homecoming football game. Alan Levin, the Republican of Happy Harry's heritage, will be showcased Friday evening at "Salute at Vicmead," his party's premier event. 

In between those sightings, though, the candidates have their operations churning along like a backroom assembly line on overtime. One of them remarked that this elongated election season is a marathon at a sprinter's pace.

One reason is the prize. For all the gleam that can go with an office like senator -- Democrat Joe Biden with his presidential drive and Iraq peace plan or the late Republican Bill Roth with an IRA named after him -- the most coveted office in Delaware is governor.

With the caliber of the field being what it is and so much prestige on the line, the candidates dare not shirk and risk falling behind.

Another reason is the times. If Charles Parks wanted to sculpt a Madonna for politicians, the statue would be Our Lady of Perpetual Campaigns, a harried and exhausted figure endlessly chasing sleep and votes. Candidates arrive at Return Day in Georgetown for what is supposed to be an end-of-election celebration only to slap on stickers for the next office they want.

This "off-year" has been the worst of all -- three special elections for the legislature thrown in and Biden ticking down the months to the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary. His campaign sent out an all-points-bulletin by e-mail on Monday to recruit Delaware volunteers for a phone bank into Iowa from its Wilmington headquarters.

In the grunt work of the campaigns, the candidates look for advantages with what they do best.

Carney is networking and has posted 26 pages of supporters on his Web site. Markell is collecting contributions, including a haul last week at a Chateau Country event that got him deep into some Republican pockets, much to the other party's discomfort. Levin is retailing as he goes from coffee klatch to coffee klatch, more than 40 of them now, even though he still has not committed to running.

The candidates also are poaching.

Levin picked up a Democratic vote of confidence over the summer when state AFL-CIO President Sam Lathem described himself as a Carney guy first and a Levin guy second. Markell held his annual "Tour de Delaware" bicycle tour, refusing to cede the jock vote to Carney, a college football star. Carney gave a Serious Speech on science and technology in the economy, encroaching on Markell, who was part of the telecommunications revolution at Nextel.

Carney's technology speech Tuesday probably could have had a better sendoff, though. His campaign staff had to e-mail the press release announcing it twice -- "due to problems with the previous attachment."

All the intellectual trespassing has not gone unnoticed. "They need to be comfortable in their own skins," one Democrat quipped.

The peek-a-boo campaigning has more time to go. Closer to the election it will turn into Whac-A-Mole, as the candidates pop up more and more frequently while trying to survive as moving targets, the better not to get smacked by the other side.