Posted: Oct. 23, 2013


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

The Republicans canceled Vicmead this year. This is like Rehoboth Beach without sand, Dover without legislators, Joe Biden with laryngitis.

The "Salute at Vicmead" has been the signature event for the Republicans since 1985, when they really were the Grand Old Party in Delaware, and nothing would do but to glory in it at the old blueblood hunt club in Chateau Country, as opposed to, say, a church basement in Elsmere.

Vicmead in its prime was a liquid, salon-like evening under a huge white party tent, where hundreds of Republicans would chat up Pete du Pont, Mike Castle and Bill Roth and where every other name tag seemed to read "du Pont."

Those days are long gone, when the Republicans could have two governors in a row with du Pont and Castle, a presidential candidate with du Pont, the longest-serving congressman in state history with Castle, and a household name with Roth, the author of the Roth IRA and the Roth-Kemp tax cut, as well as the influential chair of the Senate Finance Committee.

Now the Republicans have the state auditor and . . and . . . well, they did pick up a seat in the state Senate last year.

Still, there was always Vicmead. "How's that worked out for us?" quipped Charlie Copeland, the Republican state chair.

Oh, right. What do the Republicans have left to give a "Salute" to?

The party actually had set aside a date for Vicmead on Friday, Oct. 11, but called it off, instead. The expense and effort were not worth the return.

It is not like the Republicans are the glamorous money party anymore, not when it is the Democrats who can can host a reception at Joe Biden's house and haul in somewhere around $300,000 for Beau Biden's re-election campaign for attorney general, as they just did last month. A vice president trumps Vicmead any day.

"There was no Vicmead, because I like to raise money, not have parties. Quite frankly, we're focused on other items that I think will position us for the election," Copeland said.

Even without an election, the Republicans are not having a good year. They are on their second state chair after John Sigler, citing work-related issues, abruptly resigned a month after he was re-elected in the spring. The Democrats' superiority has grown by another 2,700 voters since January to stand at 123,000 more Democrats than Republicans on the registration rolls.

Now there is not even Vicmead to lubricate themselves.

Copeland -- who seems to have taken a saying to heart from Pete du Pont, his cousin-the-ex-governor, namely, "Enter the battle at its lowest moment, there is nothing to lose, and there is nowhere to go but up" -- is banking on a turnaround.

He has his reasons. The sad-sack condition of the state economy. The soap operas under the Democrats in Wilmington and New Castle County. The sharp left turn of the legislature. Now if only the Republicans had a slate of statewide candidates . . .

Nor does Copeland think the government shutdown will be a lasting problem for the Republicans here, not with Obamacare to kick around.

"People are unhappy about the shutdown, and they may blame the Republicans more, but we [Delaware Republicans] didn't have anybody there. The Affordable Care Act is going to be the gift that keeps on giving," Copeland said.

A man can dream. Yet there is a more dispassionate eye from Joe Pika, a political scientist at the University of Delaware, to survey the political layout.

"The new image of Delaware nationally [is] one of the bluest of states. For many years it was Massachusetts that Democrats pointed to as the party's final bastion. It's likely soon to be Delaware. That's true in both numbers and state policy," Pika said.

"The hard-line position so prominent among Republican members of the House of Representatives is likely to reinforce this trend."

Vicmead may not be gone forever. Copeland has not ruled out bringing it back. So run the Republican future up a flagpole and see it if gets a "Salute."