Posted: Oct. 9, 2012


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

It is one thing to come up with a roster for a make-believe sports league, drafting players from here and there for fantasy football or rotisserie baseball. But for a political ticket?

It is happening here in Delaware, right before the voters' eyes. Candidates are freelancing.

Ben Mobley, the Republican candidate for insurance commissioner, is planting campaign signs with a provocative come-on, saying, "Time to Split the Vote."

Sher Valenzuela, the Republican candidate for lieutenant governor, and Alex Pires, the Independent Party candidate for senator, openly campaigned together Saturday at the University of Delaware.

What a total disregard for same-party politicking. What happened to campaigning as a sacred bond between Republican and Republican or Democrat and Democrat?

With such flagrant conduct at the top of the ticket, it is not surprising to find it also seeping down the ballot, where Andy Staton, a Democratic candidate for a state Senate seat in Sussex County, very nearly had a fund-raiser at the home of Terry Strine, once the Republican state chair.

It was called off, but not because of any onset of a political conscience. The cancellation was chalked up to a scheduling conflict, but it might have been a tax conflict, because these days Strine runs Leadership Delaware, a non-profit that is supposed to stay out of politics.

That whirring sound? It is Boss Tweed spinning in his grave.

There is a simple reason for this do-it-yourself political ticket. It is the breakdown of the two-party system in the state. The Democrats are holding up their part -- they are so strong, they have the governor, the congressional delegation, all but one other of the statewide offices and the General Assembly -- but the Republicans clearly are not.

It has led to Republicans engaging in rotisserie politics, drafting a ticket that suits them.

Mobley put it this way, "There hasn't been a Republican win the presidential vote here since 1988. My goal is to make sure they don't vote Democratic the rest of the way down. I have to get them out of the habit of voting a straight ticket."

Mobley is running against Karen Weldin Stewart, the current insurance commissioner who is the weakest candidate on the Democrats' statewide ballot, only getting onto it by surviving a four-way primary with 33 percent of the vote.

There must be something about the prospect of losing to Stewart that can set off unconventional political impulses. The last Republican whom she beat switched parties. John Brady was the Republican candidate for insurance commissioner in 2008, but he is the Democratic candidate for Sussex County clerk of the peace this time around. His chances look good, too.

Valenzuela was equally unrepentant about her mix-and-match politics. "You represent all the people. I look at this as a renaissance," she said.

Nor are the Republican candidates with wanderlust being called out for it, at least not publicly. John Sigler, the Republican state chair, ducked an interview. Jeff Cragg, the Republican running for governor, gave a pass to Valenzuela, his nominal running mate.

"I believe her motives are pure, and she's trying to reach out to other constituent groups, and she knows what she's doing," Cragg said.

The Democrats are not free of fantasy ticket-making, although theirs is different. It is internal. This is what it means to be the party in power, when a nomination counts for something.

A makeshift slate formed by six candidates came together in the Democratic primary, and it delivered for Dennis Porter Williams for Wilmington mayor, Tom Gordon for New Castle County executive, Chris Bullock for New Castle County Council president, Harris McDowell for state senator, Charles Potter for state representative and Stewart for insurance commissioner.

For Republicans, though, freelancing seems like a dubious strategy. Maybe 20 years ago, but now?

Back then, the state's voters used to hopscotch their way down the ballot. It reached its heyday with "The Swap" in 1992, when Mike Castle, the Republican governor, and Tom Carper, the Democratic congressman, switched offices.

Castle and Carper carried all three counties, and so did the other two statewide candidates who won on that Election Day. One was a Democrat, Ruth Ann Minner running for lieutenant governor, and one was a Republican, Donna Lee Williams running for insurance commissioner.

That was ticket-splitting at its finest. Those days are gone. Now the voters stand like a stone wall.

In 2010, New Castle County voted straight Democratic for Chris Coons for senator, John Carney for congressman, Chip Flowers for treasurer and Richard Korn, the only one to lose, for auditor. Kent and Sussex went straight Republican for Christine O'Donnell for senator, Glen Urquhart for congressman, Colin Bonini for treasurer and Tom Wagner, the lone winner, for auditor.

What a weird message it sends when Republican candidates stray from their ticket mates in search of strange political bedfellows.

Friends don't let friends drive drunk, and Republicans don't let Republicans vote Republican.