Posted: Nov. 17, 2009


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

"Campaign Notebook" is a collection of items about political events in Delaware. This one takes a look at the curious cases of people whose close encounter with campaign sign-ups was not what they expected. 

Bob Venables is regarded as the most conservative member of the state Senate, but he has done something radical.

Venables is a Democrat. He lent his name to a fund-raiser for Colin Bonini, a fellow state senator who wants to run for treasurer. Bonini is a Republican.

It is kind of a complicated story. Venables says he was out fishing when Bonini called. He did not realize he was the one who was about to get hooked.

Venables and Bonini are friends-across-the-aisle. Both are downstaters, Venables from Laurel in Sussex County and Bonini from Dover in Kent County. If Venables is the most conservative senator in the chamber, Bonini would be the runner-up.

"He said, can I put you down as a 'special guest.' It didn't seem to be any problem to me. I never thought anything else. It's only because of the way he said it," Venables said.

About two and a half weeks ago, Venables had a bad boating accident and got knocked out, but it had nothing to do with consenting to being listed as a "special guest."

"For the record, he signed on before he hit his head," Bonini said.

Never mind. Venables was still confused. He did not think being identified as a "special guest" would make people think he was endorsing Bonini for treasurer, although they certainly did. Democrats especially. They have enough candidates of their own to choose from -- Velda Jones-Potter, the treasurer Gov. Jack Markell appointed to replace himself, and Chip Flowers, a lawyer.

Because Venables is from Sussex County, his association with Bonini is probably not a big deal, unlikely to cost him much politically. As anyone involved in state politics knows, Delaware has three parties -- the Democrats, the Republicans and Sussex County.

Sussex is not too particular about the other labels. John Atkins, the state representative from Millsboro, has gotten himself elected from his Sussex district as a Republican and a Democrat, which he is now.

Venables is a plain-spoken man. He is not given to political double talk. "Special guest" meant "special guest," not "endorse."

"I'm a long way from agreeing with everything the Democrats do, but I am loyal," Venables said, although he did concede, "Secretly there are lots of times I support people of the other party."

Venables figures he probably will stay neutral in the race for treasurer, because of his friendship with Bonini. "If he was elected, I'd be disappointed, because I'm with him on the Senate floor, and he's one of the people who usually agrees with me," he said.

Bonini's fund-raiser is Friday evening in Rehoboth Beach. Venables is thinking about giving an even more special meaning to "special guest."

"I might not even be there," Venables said.

# # #

There could be other people out there surprised to find themselves counted in Bonini's camp.

Bonini was in Wilmington for a "Meet Colin Bonini" happy hour Friday evening at the Public House, a new restaurant and bar at the Residences at Rodney Square. He said he had about 20 people come out, and he asked them to sign up to volunteer for his campaign.

"There were two sign-up sheets. I thought they were both for me. It turns out they weren't," he said.

One was for Bonini. The other was for a gay and lesbian group. Really.

"People who thought they were signing up for me signed up for this gay and lesbian group," Bonini said, "and there could be gay and lesbian voters wondering, who's this conservative candidate who's e-mailing me?"