Posted: Nov. 5, 2006


Every election has its "Twilight Zone" -- weird stuff that never should have happened but did, or should have happened but never did. Here is a "Top Ten" list for 2006.

10. MIS-SPEAKER. The votes barely were counted in 2004 when Terry Spence, the House Republican speaker, mouthed off about making sure that some new Democratic state representatives "are never heard of -- we can do that, we're in the majority." Then and there, the Democrats vowed to get even. After running unopposed in '02 and '04, Spence drew a serious challenger in '06 and put his seat in play.

9. WHAT GOES AROUND, COMES AROUND. There was supposed to be a deal between the Democrats and Republicans to pass a bill preventing "fusion" candidates -- people filing on more than one ticket. The Republicans backed out in hopes of making mischief for the Democrats, but they also did it to themselves. "Fusion" candidates forced primaries in both parties, most notably sowing disunity in the Republicans' effort to unseat state Sen. Jim Vaughn, a Clayton Democrat.

8. ARTFUL DODGERS. The Democrats were expected to bank on their rising statewide fortunes to target Tom Wagner, the Republican state auditor. The Republicans were expected to stir up their downstate base and go after state Sen. Nancy Cook, a Kent County Democrat. Neither party got around to it. Wagner's opponent was too weak even to bother with a traditional announcement tour, and Cook was left unopposed. In politics as in life, it can be better to be lucky than good.

7. PROT(R)ACK-TED DISTRACTION. For two elections now, the Republicans have had to deal with the Protack Factor -- wasting time, energy and money to dispatch Mike Protack in a primary with an endorsed statewide candidate. Bill Lee went on to wage a close race for governor in 2004, but Jan Ting was so wounded in the U.S. Senate primary this year, he was hardly heard from again.

6. LEGISLATIVE OPEN. The Democrats were able to dream about taking over the state House of Representatives because of the retirements of the Republican pair of Joe DiPinto and Gerry Buckworth and lapsed Republican Wally Caulk. By contrast, the Republicans were unable to dream similarly about taking over the state Senate because Democrats Thurman Adams and Jim Vaughn were not retiring unless the voters made them.

5. POWER TRIP. Deregulating electric rates was supposed to be so potent an issue that voters would be energized to zap incumbents. Instead, people mostly decided it was better to adjust their thermostats than the makeup of the legislature.

4. WEDGE-FREE ZONE. All across the country, the political parties focused on issues to divide the electorate into "us-and-them" and get their base out. It could not work here, not with the lines impossible to draw. Embryonic stem cell research? Some of the biggest backers were Congressman Mike Castle, a moderate Republican, and state Sen. Bob Venables, a Democrat known as the conservatives' conservative. Gay rights? Key support came from Gov. Ruth Ann Minner, a Democrat, and state Rep. Bill Oberle, a Republican. Delaware does not like "wedge" issues, but civil unions.

3. MONEY, MONEY, MONEY. The Democrats tried to get a legal opinion to stop the Republican Party from bankrolling the political advertising in the attorney general's race, but when they failed, they jumped in, too. Both sides unleashed million-dollar attacks. Democrat Beau Biden liked to say that elections are about the voters and not the candidates, but not in this case. It was all about him.

2. EIGHT IS ENOUGH? There was not much speculation about when Mike Castle, who is 67, would retire until he had a mini-stroke in September while campaigning for his eighth House term, a Delaware record. Immediately there was an undercurrent bubbling about future candidates. Jack Markell in '08? Beau Biden in '10? Any Republican not named Mike Protack?

1. SATURDAY NIGHT SPECIAL. Woe to the candidates who make themselves the issue. It happened to John Atkins, the Republican state representative from Millsboro. This is the same John Atkins who once told the House that a "Saturday Night Special" in Sussex County was "a hot woman and a six-pack of beer." Or in his case, a fight with his wife.