Posted: Oct. 7, 2010


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

The Delaware Democrats are acting as discombobulated by the primary as the Republicans are.

Here the Democrats were, getting ready to run against Mike Castle for the Senate and Michele Rollins for the House of Representatives, until the Republican voters had other ideas.

Who knew the tea party menu in this state would include manna for Democrats?

Chris Coons, the Democratic executive in New Castle County, immediately stopped looking like so much voter chum in the Senate race, now that he was no longer up against Castle's aura as the unstoppable Republican.

Instead, Coons drew Christine O'Donnell, a political curiosity who was forced in her first television spot to resort to her best imitation of Dorothy-in-the-land-of-Oz protesting, "I'm not a witch at all!"

Memo to O'Donnell: Anyone denying she is a witch probably would be better off not wearing black.

John Carney, once the Democratic lieutenant governor, dodged Rollins and her personal fortune in the congressional race for Glen Urquhart, who is new to state politics. So new that polls could show voters more likely to identify "Glen Urquhart" as a place in Scotland than a candidate.

This election year was supposed to be the Republicans to lose. Guess what? They are seeing if they can. Meanwhile, the Democrats looked like they were still getting used to their own rising expectations as recently as Monday night.

The occasion was the Belle Everett Dinner, sponsored by the Kent County Democrats at the Felton fire hall with about 160 people in attendance. The event, a fixture of the campaign season, is named for a state treasurer, naturally a Kent Countian, who was the first Democratic woman to be elected statewide, back in 1958.

All the leading Democrats were there -- the governor, both senators, the lieutenant governor and the statewide ticket.

It was Beau Biden who took it upon himself to get everyone to appreciate the Democrats' prospects. He was in a unique position to do it, as the vice president's son running for re-election as attorney general with the Republicans taking a pass on the race.

"If you only remember one thing I have to say tonight, it's 110,000. Anybody know what that number is? That's the advantage we have of Democratic voters over Republican voters. We outnumber Republicans in this state by over 110,000 voters," Biden said.

The Democrats' improved situation came into focus even more as Matt Denn, the lieutenant governor, introduced Coons with a witticism, "He's not just the person who's not the one he's running against."

Coons is a policy wonk. He wanted to talk about the county's bond rating and veterans benefits and job creation and such, but he also understood what his most important task was, and he laid it out.

"I don't want our state to be the butt of late-night jokes," Coons said.

Still, the Democrats had their sober moments at the dinner. They realized their own party could have been as dazed and torn as the Republicans are now. All they had to do was look at Carney and at Jack Markell, who became the governor by beating Carney in a primary two years ago.

It is a political wonder that Carney and Markell got past it. This is the Democratic Party, after all. There are still people nursing a 40-year-old grudge over a primary that guaranteed the congressional seat to Pete du Pont and the Republicans.

"We put all of you and Democrats across the state in a very, very difficult position to make a choice between the two of us. [Afterwards], you don't know how much Jack did for me, helping me pick myself up," Carney said.

There was also a great deal of concern at the dinner for Nancy Cook, a state senator representing a Kent County district since 1974. She is about as obvious a target as there could be in a campaign season stoked by anti-government and anti-incumbent belligerency.

"Where's Nancy Cook? My good friend," Carney said. "There's a wave that's going to roll up from Sussex north, and we've got to stop it right here in Kent County."

All in all, however, the Democrats figured out they should be enjoying themselves. Denn ribbed Tom Carper, the state's senior senator, for pulling rank at the dinner five years ago.

The Felton fire hall is famous for its fare of fried oysters, chicken salad and slippery dumplings. Denn is quite fond of it, but he found himself too busy to eat when he arrived in 2005 as the newly-elected insurance commissioner, his first statewide office. He arranged to take his dinner home.

"I walked back in the kitchen, and I said I'm ready for my fried oysters and chicken salad, and they said, well, Sen. Carper took your fried oysters and chicken salad," Denn said.

"I said that's not possible, because I saw you guys making two boxes, and there was one that said 'Sen. Carper' on it and one that said 'Commissioner Denn' on it.

"They said he really likes fried oysters and chicken salad. He took both."

Carper has not spent 34 years in politics without knowing how to wriggle out of that one.

"Honest to God, I do not remember eating Matt's dinner," Carper said, "but on the Tuesday after the first Monday in November, we're going to eat somebody's lunch."

Incidentally, Carper left the Belle Everett Dinner this year with a box of fried oysters and chicken salad. But only one.