Posted: Nov. 8, 2007


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

There appeared to be no way for the Republicans to put a smiley face on what happened to them in the special election Saturday, when they were walloped by Bruce Ennis and the Democrats for a state Senate seat.

Joanne Christian and the Republicans were swatted away by a Democratic organization built largely by party leaders, legislators and labor unions. It was such a juggernaut, winning by 2-1, that the effort satisfied John Daniello, the Democrats' chronically critical state chair, and even left the Republicans impressed.

The Democrats' operation was so effective that the Republicans decided they had a reason to like it. Maybe they could salvage something positive from their rout, after all.

The Republicans looked ahead to the election for Delaware's next governor, now a year away, when they expect Alan Levin of Happy Harry's fame to be their candidate against either Lt. Gov. John Carney or Treasurer Jack Markell, rivals for the Democratic nomination.

The Republicans are coming up on the 20th anniversary of the last time they elected a governor, and the state's voting trends and registration are against them in 2008.

It is no secret the Republicans think they have a better chance of a political turnaround by running against Carney. They have vowed to make voters think "Minner" is his first name, lashing him to the governor whose approval rating sagged to a mediocre 42 percent in a poll by Fairleigh Dickson University last month.

That measure of gubernatorial (dis)approval was recorded even before the alarm level went up on the Indian River bridge and the state's Finance Department, a pristine source of precision and pride for a generation of governors, was tarred by a theft scandal.

The Republicans also believe that Markell's voters, if he loses a primary, would be more likely to switch to Levin, because the two share a pro-business, entrepreneurial background. They regard Carney's voters, if he loses, as yellow-dog Democrats who would not desert to a Republican.

Carney has sewn up a slew of endorsements from party insiders, including the governor, all but two of the 13 Democratic state senators, with Ennis among them, and two-thirds of  the Democratic state representatives.

The Republicans would like it just fine if all those individual endorsements for Carney became one big party endorsement, and the crack Democratic organization that carried the special election for Ennis lurched back to life for Carney in a primary against Markell.

For the Republicans, that fearsome Democratic organization gives the truth to the saying, the enemy of my enemy is my friend.

Markell is having none of it. "They should see the kind of organization I'm going to have out there," he said cheerily, "and I was pleased to be part of that organization. My staff, my volunteers and I were out there for Senator Ennis."

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Pete du Pont, the Republican ex-governor, used to say that a candidate needed three people behind him -- a driver, a scheduler and a tough son-of-a-gun designated to say no.

Watch out for those drivers. They tend to last.

Larry Windley, who got into politics 25 years ago as a college student driving for Democrat Tom Carper in his first congressional race, was named the new state director for Carper -- a post that makes Windley the chief aide based in Delaware for Carper's Senate office.

Windley worked off and on for Carper in various roles, including an appointment as assistant secretary of state when Carper was the governor. He replaces Brian Bushweller, who retired.

Windley is not the only member of the driving fraternity to stick around.

Alan Levin's first political job was driving for Bill Roth, the Republican senator. It was an assignment that also meant driving Roth's shedding and slobbering St. Bernard.

After coping with the dog, Levin should be fine running for governor, because it is hard to think of anything that would be messier along the way -- not even shaking hands at one of those campaign crab feasts with people who have eaten too many crabs with not enough napkins.

Jeff Dayton, who is the state director for Republican Congressman Mike Castle, got his start in politics as the driver when Castle ran for lieutenant governor in his first statewide race.

Castle was so fidgety, though, that sometimes he let Dayton drive and sometimes he drove himself. Come to think of it, Castle never minded being his own tough son-of-a-gun to say no, either.