Posted: Dec. 17, 2007


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

Jack was nimble when it came to the University of Delaware's championship football game.

The biggest sporting event of local pride in years -- probably since the last time Delaware played for the championship in 2003 -- was shown Friday evening on ESPN2, and state Treasurer Jack Markell was quick enough to capitalize on it.

The game was the backdrop for the first political spot for Markell's campaign for the Democratic nomination for governor, and it was not just any old spot. It featured Tubby Raymond, Mr. Delaware Football himself, the coach who took the team to three national titles before retiring in 2002.

For something less than $5,000 -- cheap by political standards -- Markell was able to air the spot three times, putting an iconic Delawarean in front of people, including an untold number without much of an attention span for politics, at a time they were feeling good about their home state, even if the Fightin' Blue Hens did lose 49-21 in Chattanooga to Appalachian State University.

Raymond is a Republican who once described himself as "about as conservative as Genghis Khan," but Markell grew up seven doors away from him in a Newark neighborhood and was practically another son, so there was Raymond, decked out in his blue UD pullover and telling the viewers in a 30-second spot he was all for Jack Markell for governor.

"I think it was brilliant. I never thought in the deepest recesses of my mind that anyone would think to do it, and to do it with Tubby was a magnificent campaign ploy," said Jim Soles, a political scientist retired from the University of Delaware.

"Most people have a great deal of respect and admiration for Tubby Raymond. I'm not sure it swings votes, but people will look at it, and that's exactly what Jack wanted."

Raymond finished his part of the spot with a sly little joke. "Now to be real honest, I know that Jack wasn't much of a football player, but I know that he's going to make a great governor," he said.

It was an understated reference to Markell's rival for the Democratic nomination -- Lt. Gov. John Carney, who was a heckuva football player, a quarterback who played on St. Mark's High School championship team in 1973 and was All-Ivy League at Dartmouth College.

Between snaring Tubby and delivering that last line, the spot was so proud of itself that it virtually winked. It ended with a photo of Markell posing with his family and sporting a smile that all but said, "Oh, what a good boy am I!"

# # #

The U.S. Senate passed farming legislation last week. Joe Biden and Tom Carper, the state's Democratic senators, both voted for it. Both issued press releases. The similarities end there.

Carper's press release crowed about what the bill would do for Delaware once it becomes law, with its provisions including help for chicken farmers as well as corn, soybean, potato, strawberry and watermelon growers, all staples of the state's agriculture economy.

Biden's focus was different. His press release began, "I first want to congratulate my colleague Chairman Harkin for his efforts in getting this comprehensive farm bill passed."

"Chairman Harkin" is Tom Harkin, who runs the Senate's agriculture committee. More to the point, he is an Iowa Democrat, and Biden needs the support of Iowa Democrats in the caucuses that begin the presidential voting on Jan. 3.

Let Carper champion the chickens. Biden needs the farm bill to cultivate votes.