Posted: Oct. 29, 2014; updated: Oct. 30, 2014


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

Stealing signs is one of those dirty little tricks in the Great American Pastime. No, not baseball. This is about that other Great American Pastime. Politics.

Although stealing signs in politics has a lot in common with stealing signs in baseball.

Baseball or politics, stealing signs is done on the sly to try to avoid detection. Baseball or politics, it leads to hard feelings. It is like coloring outside the lines.

Still, it is not exactly up there with steroids or half-pints-and-five-dollar-bills, so it rarely rises to an outrage, not unless it gets so blatant that someone with binoculars is hiding inside a center field scoreboard or someone closely affiliated with a campaign gets caught.

It looks like someone closely affiliated with a campaign just got caught.

That would be Dana Long, the husband of Bethany Hall-Long, a Democratic state senator up for a new term next Tuesday on Election Day.

This misadventure burst upon Delaware politics on Wednesday morning in the wee hours -- when else? -- after a pair of Republican operatives, fed up with the loss of signs two nights in a row, set up a stakeout in Middletown on the third night.

With visions of getting video fit for YouTube dancing in their heads, they waited and they got what they wanted:

The operatives took their video to the Middletown police, who opened an investigation that led to a theft charge against Long.

A telephone call to Hall-Long's home to ask for an interview on Wednesday was answered by her son, who said, "People make mistakes," before he declined agitatedly to have his mother come on the line and hung up.

A statement from Hall-Long eventually was released late Thursday morning. She acknowledged it was indeed her husband in the video and said the Republican signs had been taken to Democratic state headquarters to be returned to the other party.

"Sadly, this race has become tough and personal," Hall-Long said in her release.

"My husband is my high school sweetheart, and he loves me very much. I was not aware that he had allowed his frustration over the campaign attacks to get the better of him. Of course, I'm disappointed and wish that it had not happened."

Strangely, the disappearing political signs had nothing to do with John Marino, the Republican candidate running against Hall-Long.

They were generic signs from the state Republican Party, which recently printed up 2,000 of them, reading "Delaware Needs Jobs" or "Fix the Economy" with a tagline of "Vote Republican."

"It appears that Mischief Night has come early this year in Middletown," wisecracked John Fluharty, the Republicans' state executive director, in a press release.

This is not too surprising. The Middletown area has a longstanding reputation for political skullduggery, whether it is needed or not.

Hall-Long does not come across as a candidate who would need it.

A legislator since 2002, Hall-Long is also a nursing professor at the University of Delaware. She has won five elections with ease, first as a state representative and then a state senator, running unopposed twice and never polling under 60 percent of the vote.

Voter registration is also on her side -- 45 percent Democratic, 29 percent Republican and 26 percent otherwise affiliated -- in the 10th Senate District, an elongated stretch of New Castle County reaching from Newark to Middletown.

It is hard to defend this sort of thing, and John Daniello, the Democratic state chair, did not even give it a try. He released a statement that treated stealing signs as a plague on both parties with the Democrats recently spotting a Republican candidate, who was not named, removing Democratic signs.

"This is not a Republican or Democratic issue. This is a campaign issue, happening by both parties, and it must end," Daniello said. 

There is so much wrong here. The Ten Commandments say it is, the law says it is, and so does politics, because there is nothing more politically stupid than giving the voters a reason to vote against Hall-Long, and now they have one.

In the Great American Pastime, stealing signs backfires when someone gets caught.