Posted: Nov. 29, 2011


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

One of the abiding streaks in Delaware politics is bipartisanship. At least, it was, back when there were Republicans in Delaware politics.

Not so in D.C., where the truly massive gridlock in the traffic outside the Capitol actually pales before the gridlock in the politics inside the Capitol. Make laws? In the Congress, where nothing ever seems to get compromised except young interns?

This is what Chris Coons and John Carney were thrust into a year ago by the election.

It was kind of like falling through the looking glass for a pair of Delaware Democrats, as Coons went directly from New Castle County executive to the Senate and Carney went from former lieutenant governor to the House of Representatives.

Still, where they are from has meant more than where they are. Coons and Carney have bobbed into view in the federal city, bipartisanship intact.

It is so astounding in Washington, it is news.

Over this month, Coons has appeared on "This Week" on ABC and "Morning Joe" on MSNBC, as well as CNN and CNBC. He got there by joining with Marco Rubio, a Republican senator from Florida as new as he, to sponsor a jobs bill, and who knows, perhaps that was the point.

It was a partnership made for public consumption. Rubio was as an early icon of the Tea Party Republicans, and Coons was the political slayer of a Tea Party Republican in his race against Christine O'Donnell. Not to mention the vice presidential connection. Rubio keeps popping up as a possible candidate, and Coons has the Senate seat previously occupied by the current one.

In case anyone was too oblivious to understand, their bill has one of those awful acronyms as a title. Words were tortured until they screamed bipartisanship as the "A.G.R.E.E. Act," the initials standing for "American Growth, Recovery, Empowerment and Entrepreneurship."

It worked. On "Morning Joe," Chris Matthews gushed, "I'm so impressed, Senators, that you're meeting together."

Carney landed in the New York Times and the Washington Post, along with an appearance on MSNBC, for forming a bipartisan breakfast club with Jim Renacci, a fellow freshman who is a Republican congressman from Ohio. They met as members of the Financial Services Committee, and their club has grown to a dozen or so participants, most of them in their first term.

Carney has been so appalled by the political brinksmanship in Washington that he made the case for bipartisanship earlier this month back home at the Jefferson-Jackson Dinner, of all places, typically an occasion to let Democrats be Democrats. He acknowledged it was unusual, but he could not help himself.

"It's been a difficult, challenging and frankly, frustrating six months. If we could only do it like we do business here in Delaware, we actually would be able to get something done," Carney said.

"We really do take it for granted too often, but this is a very, very special place. We work together, Democrats and Republicans."

Attention aside, the bipartisanship is smart politics at home, where the votes are.

"Both Carney and Coons are playing to a Delaware strong suit -- finding bipartisan solutions to shared problems," said Joe Pika, a political scientist at the University of Delaware.

"Coons' proposal with Marco Rubio and the new breakfast group organized by Carney help these first-term members get some attention in D.C., earn credits back home and launch efforts to treat the disease that everyone agrees infects Washington today -- rampant partisanship that prevents considered action."

Pika added, "If this is 'politics,' it sounds to me like we need even more of it."

Neither Coons nor Carney had to look very far for role models. All they had to do was remember the Delawareans elected to their seats before they were.

Joe Biden's friendship with Strom Thurmond, a Dixiecrat-turned-Republican from South Carolina, was legendary in the Senate, and it was not just for show, not with Biden invited to give the eulogy at Thurmond's funeral in 2003.

Mike Castle, as a leading Republican moderate in the House, worked across the aisle so well that it got him the first veto ever from the second George Bush, his own Republican president, in 2006 on a bill about embryonic stem cell research.

It also got Castle called a RINO -- Republican in Name Only.

It was the sort of thing that did in Castle in the Republican senatorial primary last year. Ditto for Michele Rollins, another moderate, in the Republican congressional primary. The nominations went to Christine O'Donnell and Glen Urquhart and their Tea Party backers.

Certainly it is a cautionary tale that Coons and Carney look to have taken to heart. They got their jobs through extreme politics -- on the other side.