Posted: Oct. 11, 2011


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

Tom Kovach is asking to do not what the Delaware Republicans have never done, but what they have not done in 33 years. Oust a sitting Democrat from statewide office.

Take a bow, Rich Gebelein. Who knew a simple Republican victory for attorney general would stand alone since 1978? It is hard to remember, because it was so long ago, but it seems like word of Gebelein's election came by way of Pony Express.

This is not a losing streak. This is a death march. This is what Kovach has to overcome with his campaign to vault himself from the New Castle County Council to the House of Representatives by taking out John Carney, the Democrat who is the state's lone congressman.

Still, there are worse times to give it a try.

Congressional job approval is at 13 percent, possibly lower than dial-up computer connections, and it is an angry land with the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street.

Furthermore, Carney is in his first term, usually the most vulnerable time for a challenge. Kovach only has to look in a mirror to remind himself of this. He did not make it to a second term as a state representative in Brandywine Hundred.

As a matter of fact, Kovach has never beaten a Democrat in November. Instead, he has been the king of special elections.

Kovach got to the General Assembly by winning one of them in December 2008 after a Democratic representative quit on the district. He lost the seat in November 2010, but no matter. There was another special election out there.

Quicker than people could say, "I'm not a witch," the domino effect took Chris Coons from the Democratic county executive to senator and Paul Clark from the Democratic council president to county executive, and Kovach from a special election in January to council president.

The special elections have made Kovach, a 42-year-old lawyer, something of a star to the Republicans. This is what happens when the highest official the party has is the state auditor.

It will not be a special election against Carney but rather a race against someone who has won three times statewide, twice for lieutenant governor in 2000 and 2004 and once for congressman last year, when he left behind a wrenching primary loss against Jack Markell for governor in 2008.

Not to mention Carney raised $2 million in the 2010 congressional election. Not to mention the state has 111,000 more Democratic than Republican voters.

Kovach's timing for his candidacy could be better. It was the week the New Castle County Council began its consideration of one of the most controversial projects ever, a plan to turn a former DuPont Co. office site into commercial space.

Talk about somebody stepping on his own opening line.

There is a school of thought among the Republicans that Kovach might have been better off running for insurance commissioner. Karen Weldin Stewart, the Democratic incumbent, is having a shaky first term and facing a primary in which it does not look as though she can even count on the uniform support of party officials.

Stewart's woes could be an opening, especially for someone like Kovach. In a state known for its middle-of-the-road politics, he is a moderate Republican in the mode of Mike Castle.

The race for insurance commissioner could be the Republicans' best chance for finding their first Democrat-buster since Rich Gebelein and ending that deathly losing streak.

It could also be a beachhead toward higher office, something the Republicans could dearly use. It is working so far for Matt Denn, the Democrat who moved from insurance commissioner to lieutenant governor, presumably with designs on governor in 2016.

Never mind. Kovach wants the Congress, so the Republicans will just have to count on the times.

"Carney is very vulnerable. I don't think the people of the state of Delaware truly realize that Carney has been a yes-man for the Pelosi-Obama agenda," said John Sigler, the Republican state chair.

It could be noted that Sigler did not say the Pelosi-Obama-Biden agenda. That might matter here.