Posted: Nov. 9, 2006


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

Return Day in Georgetown is supposed to be the time when people "return" to the Sussex County seat on the Thursday after an election to close down the campaign hostilities in a ceremony of reconciliation.

It is sometimes called "Returns Day," because the election "returns" are read aloud, the way they were in a simpler age when it was the only way to learn the outcome.

While all of that still happens -- the returns announced, a hatchet buried, and sworn rivals like Beau Biden and Ferris W. Wharton riding together in a parade -- Return Day in recent years has become something else.

A return to campaigning.

Two days after the election, when grateful voters thought it was safe to turn on the television, open the mail box and answer the telephone again, political stickers are back as surely as that lose-weight-fast spam that keeps popping up in the e-mail, heh-heh-heh.

It is the candidates, already angling for their next office.

The stickers dotted the politicians mingling behind the Sussex County Courthouse in a fellowship that has to be the only gathering of its kind on earth. It is a festive tailgate party that brings together Delaware's political universe -- the entire congressional delegation, statewide officials, party leaders, legislators, lobbyists and campaign staffers.

Hardly a cell phone rings, because anyone who would be calling is there. Defeated candidates are welcome as fellow partakers of the rites of the campaign trail -- even Dennis Spivack, the Democratic congressional challenger who has yet to find his "off" switch.

"This is a fight that's not finished. The election showed everybody that I'm here to stay," he bellowed.

The stickers were a prime topic of conversation. Some were straightforward and predictable. There were no-nonsense ones about Lt. Gov. John C. Carney Jr., a two-term Democrat, saying, "John Carney, Governor, 2008." Ditto New Castle County Executive Christopher A. Coons, a first-term Democrat, reading, "Chris Coons, County Executive, '08."

Some were coy, like the stickers saying "I Back Jack" for state Treasurer Jack A. Markell, a Democrat just elected to his third term. Was he using up the excess from his 2006 campaign or craftily recycling them for a run for governor in 2008? Markell was smiling but not saying.

While Carney played it straight and Markell played it cool, there were stickers that confirmed what everyone had guessed about a gubernatorial candidate on the Republican side.

"Charlie Copeland, Governor, 2008," the stickers said about state Sen. Charles L. Copeland, who would have to give up his legislative seat to try to follow in the footsteps of his cousin, Gov. Pierre S. "Pete" du Pont.

One sticker in particular had people talking as they tried to figure out what it meant. It looked like a miniature Delaware license plate, down to the expiration date of Nov. 4, 2008, the next Election Day. It read, "MDLG08."

A little sleuthing showed the sticker had something to do with Insurance Commissioner Matthew P. Denn, a first-term Democrat. What did "MDLG" stand for? Perhaps "Matt's Dog Lenny Growls"? Maybe "Matt Doesn't Like Gossip"? No, it could not possibly mean that. He is in politics.

Eventually the code was cracked --"Matt Denn, Lieutenant Governor, '08." The insurance commissioner would like a new office.

Denn might have competition . . . or he might not. There was another lieutenant governor sticker circulating for "Cook." Nancy W. Cook, the Democratic state senator? Thomas J. Cook, her son who is the state Finance Department's deputy secretary?

The "Cook" stickers did not specify an election year, but they did have a campaign slogan, "Continuing a tradition of common sense," which was used by Allen J. Cook, the late state senator who was Nancy Cook's husband and had the Senate seat before she did. Allen Cook nearly ran for lieutenant governor in 1972, and Nancy Cook lost a Democratic primary for lieutenant governor in 1984. Were the stickers simply nostalgic?

"You never know," laughed Tom Cook.

There was a fighting-words sticker from state Rep. Joseph W. Booth, a Republican spoiling to challenge Speaker Terry R. Spence for his job. "Booth, Leadership in 2006 . . . And Beyond," it read.

One for John F. Brady, the Republican recorder of deeds in Sussex County, was another of those ambiguous stickers, saying "John Brady, 2008, Let the Big Guy Work For You!" There was a reason it was not more specific -- Brady is a candidate in search of an office. Maybe Sussex County Council, he said, maybe insurance commissioner.

U.S. Rep. Michael N. Castle, a Republican who prevailed over a mini-stroke to be re-elected, had an old-fashioned campaign button that showed he was not ready to call it a career, which has taken him from lieutenant governor to two-term governor to the Congress. "Mike Castle '08," it read.

But what office? "Governor. We're going to redo the constitution," Castle quipped.

What about Castle for Senate? U.S. Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., a six-term Democrat, is up in 2008. He is already running for president, but state law lets him run for re-election, too, if he wants. "I'm running again for the Senate. If he's running, I don't know," Biden joked.

The political powwow behind the courthouse was alive with Bidens -- Joe the senator and his wife Jill, his sons Beau the next attorney general and Hunter, and his niece Missy Owens, who ran Beau's campaign.

The Bidens were having a very good day. They were celebrating a lot of new titles in the family.

Now that the Democrats have taken over the Senate, Joe will be the chair of the Foreign Relations Committee. Beau, of course, will be sworn in as attorney general in January. Jill, who teaches English at Delaware Technical & Community College, just earned a doctorate in education from the University of Delaware.

Next up -- a title for Hunter? There were no political stickers for clues, but why bother when everyone knows the Bidens are always running for something?