Posted: Nov. 27, 2006


Mothers, don't let your candidates go to Vance Phillips'

Vance C. Phillips, the Sussex County Republican councilman, is known for the conservative politics he practices and the watermelons he grows -- and for combining them every summer into his Crab Feast & Watermelon Extravaganza at Trap Pond near Laurel.

The event, which is Phillips' main fund raiser, has become such a draw in its nine-year history that it attracts upstaters as well as downstaters, and recently it started bringing in out-of-staters.

The out-of-staters had ambitions that lit up at the prospect of several hundred Republicans all in one place. The first to come in was U.S. Sen. George Allen, the Virginia Republican who attended in 2005, and the second was U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum, the Pennsylvania Republican who was there last summer.

Everyone knows what happened to them. Allen and Santorum, both conservatives nurturing thoughts of running for president, lost their seats in the 2006 Democratic tide, the first time they faced the voters after their trips to Trap Pond. (What an apt name.)

Maybe Phillips ought to re-title his fund raiser the "Crab Feast & Watermelon Extravaganza & Political Jinx."

"I didn't have any trouble getting re-elected," protested Phillips, who polled 57 percent of the vote on Election Day.

At first Phillips fretted he might not get any more headliners if word spread about what happened to Allen and Santorum. Then he decided to make the most of it.

"The invite to Hillary has already gone out," he quipped.

Copeland coup

While the focus has been on a very public challenge to state House Republican Speaker Terry R. Spence by state Rep. Joseph W. Booth, another parallel plot unfolded quietly in the state Senate to unseat the top Republican there.

It was a success. State Sen. Charles L. Copeland took over as minority leader from state Sen. John C. Still III, who led the caucus for four years, when the Senate Republicans met Monday evening in Dover.

Irony of ironies, it was Copeland's election to the chamber in 2002 that gave Still enough votes to become the minority leader and infuse the Senate Republicans with a more conservative flavor.

There were indications going into the session that Copeland would win with at least five votes among the eight Senate Republicans. The caucus also voted to retain state Sen. Liane M. Sorenson, a moderate Republican, as minority whip.

The new leadership alignment shifts the caucus power upstate. Copeland is from Greenville and Sorenson from Hockessin, while Still is from Dover.

Copeland is regarded as a strong contender for the Republican gubernatorial nomination in 2008, but Still has been mentioned for it, too. By toppling Still, Copeland not only inflicted damage on a rival but also took a step toward blunting criticism that his political experience was limited to not very many years on the back bench in the minority.

Now he has to prove he is up to it.

Drive carefully

John D. Daniello, the Democratic state chair, had reason to be extra-vigilant about the "knock & drag" operation on Election Day, when squads of Democratic operatives swarmed into Democratic neighborhoods to pound on doors and get voters to the polls.

Daniello was not simply concerned about getting out the vote. All those operatives were driving to their assignments in leased vans, and Daniello's signature was on the line personally guaranteeing 22 of them.

"You can imagine the sermon I gave those drivers," Daniello said. "I'm telling you, all of those vans went back in perfect shape."