Posted: Dec. 21, 2007


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

As Delaware political years go, 2007 will be known as the one that upset the balance of power in special elections.

Up until now, the state Republicans were viewed as the Minutemen (and women) of special elections, known for swooping in and winning races that by all rights should have gone to the Democrats, the same way the colonial forces harried the British army, the best in the world.

There were a record five special elections, a number that flabbergasted and exhausted both parties. It is not uncommon for years to go by without even one.

The Republicans kept two seats, and the Democrats kept two seats, but the Democrats filched one from the Republicans when Bryon Short became the state representative in a Brandywine Hundred district that was a longtime Republican stronghold.

It was a reversal that hit the Republicans where they lived, because they had felt virtually invincible in special elections, always winning when they had the advantage and sometimes when they did not. This year it was the Democrats who accomplished it, instead.

The Democrats are giving much of the credit for their new-found political muscle to Howard Dean, their national chair. Over the howls and protests of Beltway Democrats, he created a "50-State Strategy" to funnel money to the state parties to strengthen their field operations.

Delaware Democrats are getting something upwards of $100,000 a year from the national party, a kitty that let them expand the staff that anchored the campaign operation for the special elections.

Combined with the local party organizations and an outpouring from allies in the labor unions, the Democrats more than held their own -- much to their own surprise.

"I was cynical about the help the Democratic National Committee would give us. Since the 50-State Strategy, I've really turned around. These employees have really helped," said John Daniello, the Democratic state chair.

The party passed a resolution Monday evening to recognize their political operatives, people like: Molly Jurusik, the party's executive director; Kristin Dwyer, the deputy executive director; Erik Schramm and Amanda Lamar, who work for the House Democratic caucus; Renee Bensley and Cerron Cade, the field operatives; Joe Sheeran, the communications director; and Alex Snyder-Mackler, the former communications director who now works in Joe Biden's Senate office.

It was considered important enough that state Rep. Bob Gilligan, the House minority leader, showed up, even though he was on crutches after knee surgery.

"These kids are phenomenal. They just uproot their lives and move and do whatever we ask them to do. We couldn't have done it without them. We made history this year. We found out how to do it," said Abby Betts, the Kent County Democratic chair with three of the special elections in her county.

Not very long ago, the Republicans ridiculed Howard Dean. They held a contest at the Delaware State Fair for the best imitation of his "I Have A Scream" speech, the meltdown after he tanked in the 2004 Iowa presidential caucuses but vowed to continue his campaign in "New Hampshire . . . South Carolina . . . Oklahoma . . . Arizona . . . to take back the White House. Yeh-ha!"

That tour never happened, but the operatives from Dean's 50-State Strategy got to Claymont, Middletown, Odessa and Smyrna and took some legislative seats. It turned Dean's cry into "The Scream Heard 'Round the Political World."

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While Joe Biden's campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination struggles for attention, Pete du Pont's 20-year-old run on the Republican side had a mini-rebirth.

Delaware's former governor, who was in office from 1977 to 1985, was the star exhibit in a story from MSNBC about second-tier candidates whose ideas lived on -- notably du Pont's plan to have welfare recipients work, which became part of welfare reform legislation signed into law by Bill Clinton, and his proposal for voluntary retirement accounts as an alternative to Social Security, which George Bush has pushed for.

MSNBC praised du Pont this way: "Discounted as an iconoclast who had little chance to become the 1988 GOP nominee, du Pont proved to be ahead of his time."

Du Pont took it in stride. "I certainly was second tier," he said.

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The Supreme Court Historical Society is offering what has to be one of the oddest gifts of the holiday season. It is a board game called, "Run for President," and the object is for players to reach the White House by collecting electoral votes.

The game's instructions read, "The number of electoral votes a player receives depends on his/her skill and luck."

Really. Why would the historical society want to remind anyone that the court once decided a presidential race by gaming the Electoral College?