Posted: Oct. 6, 2014


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

Two candidates for state treasurer. Two fund-raisers over the weekend.

Sean Barney brought in the entire congressional delegation for his. Ken Simpler had a Moon Bounce for the kiddies.

This is the way it goes in a state like Delaware, where there is essentially a one-party system. The Democrats are everywhere, and the Republicans are left shooting for the moon.

It says everything about state politics that the showdown for treasurer is regarded as the statewide showcase race on Election Day on Nov. 4.

The Republicans have all but written off the campaigns for U.S. senator, U.S. representative and state attorney general as out of reach, and while they are aiming to cling to Tom Wagner, the state auditor who is their lone statewide officeholder, the open race for treasurer is considered their best opportunity in 20 years to elect someone new statewide with Ken "Let's Make It" Simpler.

Not that the Democrats have any intention of giving the office away, not if their 125,000-voter registration edge over the Republicans has anything to do with it.

Something else that has both parties paying particular attention is the treasurer's office has a little bit of a political aura to it, and who knows what the future will be for the winner?

Unlike the other lesser statewide offices of attorney general, auditor and insurance commissioner, the treasurer's office has a track record of making governors. Jack Markell, the current Democratic governor, got there directly from treasurer, and Tom Carper sprang from treasurer to be a Democratic congressman, governor and now senator.

So the stakes are high, and everything counts. It was not coincidental that both candidates were stuffing their schedules full of fund-raisers, not with another round of campaign finance reports due Tuesday and each one of them determined to outshine the other on the robustness of their efforts.

As Simpler noted Friday when he e-mailed a pitch for contributions, "It will be at this moment that our campaign will be directly compared to that of our opponent."

The essence of the two campaigns was on display over the weekend at their dueling fund-raisers.

Simpler, an experienced financial officer and investment manager, is running as a "numbers" guy.

"I am a finance guy. This is a finance job," Simpler said at his fund-raiser. "Understanding how to manage a $2 billion portfolio should be a job prerequisite for managing a $2 billion portfolio. My opponent has exactly zero money management experience."

It is an argument the voters have bought sparingly over the years.

Janet Rzewnicki, a Republican treasurer who was an accountant, was in the "numbers" category, but Chip Flowers, the current Democratic treasurer who dropped out before the voters had a chance to throw him out, was a "legal" guy, Markell was a "business" guy, and Carper was, well, Carper was a "tall, dark and handsome" guy.

Barney is a "policy" guy, a past aide to both of those aspiring ex-treasurers, working for Markell in the governor's office and Carper in the Senate, although Barney may be better known for leaving Carper to enlist in the Marines after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and taking a bullet in the neck in Iraq.

"I think that the party that convinces people that it can make government work and make government work for them is going to have a big night on Nov. 4," Barney said at his fund-raiser.

It was a sign of how seriously the Democrats are taking the treasurer's race that Barney was able to bring out the party's biggest firepower for his fund-raising blitz.

Markell and the legislative leadership helped out Barney last Tuesday for one fund-raiser in Wilmington, where the top ticket went for the maximum allowable contribution of $1,200, and then Carper appeared with Chris Coons, the other Democratic senator, and John Carney, the Democratic congressman, at another high-dollar event for Barney on Saturday evening in Mill Creek.

The second one brought about 50 people to the home of Lisa Goodman, the Democrats' state vice chair, and Drew Fennell, a policy adviser to the governor, and as Goodman said, "Our entire federal delegation is here tonight, which is no mean feat, even in the state of Delaware."

In order to counter, Simpler had to import some political talent. Tom Kean, the former governor of New Jersey, was here Friday for high-dollar events, which were held strictly in private, and then Simpler followed up on Sunday with a low-dollar barbecue, which about 75 people paid $20 a ticket to attend on a farm in Townsend.

Never mind there were no big political names for the barbecue. Simpler turned it into a badge of honor by welcoming some phantom guests.

As he stood alone, so unlike Barney with the entire congressional contingent around him, Simpler quipped, "I have brought the entire Republican federal delegation here with me. That, of course, is part of the problem, right?"