Posted: Oct. 10, 2009


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

The day Barack Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize happened to be the same day as the Delaware Republicans' "Salute at Vicmead," a premier fund raiser they hold annually in their natural habitat at a hunt club in Chateau Country.

They could not resist.

"At approximately 6:50 tonight, President Obama was awarded the Heisman Trophy. Our friends at Delaware Park tell us he is the odds-on favorite for World Series MVP," cracked Tom Ross, who chairs the state party.

The Republicans had a reason for such tomfoolery. It was obvious they thought Mike Castle, not Obama, should be the one getting awards. They made Castle out to be deserving of an Oscar and the Medal of Freedom, not to mention the Toy Prize Inside every Cracker Jack snack, for stepping up to run for the U.S. Senate in 2010.

Next up would be sainthood for bringing the Delaware Republicans back from the dead.

The state party was a candidate for last rites after the 2008 election. The Delaware Democrats had themselves a vice president, a governor and a lieutenant governor. The Democrats also took control of the state House of Representatives in Dover for the first time in a quarter-century.

How nice for the Democrats -- a pair of matching majorities in the General Assembly and no power base of any sort for the Republicans in Legislative Hall.

In the unkindest cut of all, the Democrats even won the state Senate seat representing Chateau Country. Throughout the countryside, hundreds of du Ponts rolled over in their graves.

This was not the makings for a frolic at Vicmead, now behind enemy lines. Still, the Republicans were doing what they could. They planned to showcase state Sen. Joe Booth, Rep. Tom Kovach and Rep. Ruth Briggs King, recent winners of three special elections, as the examples of their new mantra, courtesy of Senate Minority Leader Gary Simpson, who quipped, "One seat at a time!"

Electing a new state senator and two representatives was good, but it was never going to get the Republicans on the front of a Wheaties box. Or a Nobel Peace Prize.

Mike Castle changed everything for the Republicans. They were about 300 strong and celebratory -- not to mention a little lighter in the wallet with tickets going for $175 a person and $1,500 or $2,500 a table -- Friday evening at Vicmead.

"When I think back to about a year ago during the last election cycle, in November, to think we would have as great a crowd and as great enthusiasm as we have tonight, it was almost unthinkable. This party is on a roll. We are back," said Laird Stabler, the Republicans national committeeman.

"With Mike Castle's announcement on Tuesday, injecting an incredible amount of adrenaline into our party, from the top of the ticket to the bottom, we can do great things in 2010."

Castle gives the Republicans optimism about picking up a U.S. Senate seat here for the first time in 10 years. They lost one to Joe Biden in 1972 and the other to Tom Carper in 2000.

Castle's candidacy also taps into the anti-Biden streak that flows wide and deep within his party, although not within him, or at least not yet.

The Republicans would exalt if they could deny Beau Biden the U.S. Senate seat that belonged to his father-the-vice-president and finally thwart the Bidens, who have won eight statewide elections, seven for the Senate and one for attorney general.

"I would think that Attorney General Biden is very nervous. If he runs and doesn't win, that will hurt him in the long run," said Pete du Pont, the Republican governor from 1977 to 1985.

Castle's decision has the Republicans eagerly putting together a statewide ticket.

Vicmead was dotted with potential congressional candidates, hoping to take over from Castle. Possibly Charlie Copeland, the state Senate's former minority leader who ran for lieutenant governor. Possibly Greg Lavelle, a state representative from Brandywine Hundred. Possibly Tony Wedo, a venture capitalist from Chateau Country. Wedo rhymes with "Speedo."

Tom Wagner pronounced himself ready to run for re-election as auditor. Ferris Wharton, who lost to Beau Biden for attorney general in 2006, was looking runnerish for 2010.

State Sen. Colin Bonini was handing out little buttons pushing his candidacy for treasurer. It pays to remember, however, this is an odd-numbered year. Bonini is always running statewide in odd-numbered years but never in even-numbered years when it counts. In the last 15 years, he has mentioned himself for senator, treasurer and lieutenant governor.

Bonini is in the middle of a term and does not have to resign to run. Even so, it would not be a surprise to discover those Please-vote-Bonini-treasurer buttons were printed in disappearing ink.

By contrast, the Democrats are the ones who unexpectedly find themselves without a ticket in place, despite all of their recent success, and it will stay that way until Beau Biden makes his move.

The only sure Democratic candidate is John Carney, the former lieutenant governor running for the congressional seat. The senatorial spot is gift-wrapped for Biden, and Corrections Commissioner Carl Danberg, who once filled in as attorney general, could slot in behind Biden, but really, the rest of the ticket is a mishmash.

A number of people appear to be looking at auditor or treasurer, including Velda Jones Potter, whom Gov. Jack Markell appointed treasurer after he vacated the post himself.

Then there is Chris Coons, circling like a free radical and looking available to attach himself to the ticket depending on what is open -- the Senate if Biden defaults or attorney general if he does not. Coons is in his second term as New Castle County executive and ineligible for it in 2012.

Castle is going for a rare Triple Crown in Delaware for officeholders who were governor, congressman and senator. Tom Carper did it. So did Republican Cale Boggs after World War II. Daniel Rodney did it in the early 19th Century with an asterisk. He was elected governor and congressman and was appointed to a Senate vacancy.

Castle could be the only Delawarean to climb the scale of state representative, state senator, lieutenant governor, governor and congressman leading up to his Senate candidacy. It would be a Triple-Triple Crown or maybe a Sextuple Crown, Nobel Peace Prize not included.