Posted: Feb. 14, 2006


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

Back in the day, the Delaware Republicans used to brainstorm to come up with legislative candidates. They would scour lists of civic association officers, teachers and coaches, volunteer firefighters, church leaders and other proven community figures -- or even raid the Democrats.

It paid off, too -- probably no more so than in 1994, when their brainstorming led them to Margaret Rose Henry, a Democrat involved in various civic groups, and they astonished even themselves by winning an open Senate seat in a Wilmington district that was 71 percent Democratic. It was so daring and so imaginative that even the Wall Street Journal's editorial writers took note.

Henry later went back to the Democrats, but her defection did not detract from demonstrating what a party could do when it was plugged in to the local leaders in a legislative district.

For the 2006 election, the state Republicans are trying a different technique. They are sending out postcards.

Yes, postcards -- like buy-one-get-one-free pizza come-ons. The Republicans are mass-mailing for candidates.

"Have You Ever Thought of Being A State Senator? This could be your chance. We're looking for some good, intelligent, common sense problem solvers. We're looking for citizen leaders like you," the postcard reads.

"Because we're looking to change Delaware . . for the better! If you or someone you know is interested in being a Republican State Senator, please call Republican State Chairman Terry Strine."

The postcards appear to be new to Delaware, so it is up in the air whether political candidates can be recruited with the same sort of mass advertising that is pasted on the side of busses to get students to truck-driving schools.

Furthermore, while students can be turned into truck drivers at a certain rate of success, the postcards do not bother to say that the Republicans' record in turning out senators has been dismal.

Although the Republicans have controlled the state House of Representatives since 1984, they have been out of power in the state Senate since a couple of Republican senators switched sides in January 1973. Today the Senate Democrats outnumber the Senate Republicans by 13-8.

The postcards do not exactly have the Democrats intimidated. "If they've got such a good organization that the only way they can mine candidates is postcard solicitations, then maybe we're not in bad shape," cracked John D. Daniello, the Democratic state chair.

Not all Republicans are impressed, either. "They're going to get all the nuts in the world," one horrified Republican said.

The Democrats believe the postcards were mailed into districts held by: Sen. Patricia M. Blevins, an Elsmere Democrat; Sen. Karen E. Peterson, a Stanton Democrat; and Sen. James T. Vaughn Sr., a Clayton Democrat.

The Republicans say the Democrats have guessed wrong, but they will not reveal where the postcards went, how many there were or what they cost. They will say the postcards were sent earlier this month into a couple of districts as a pilot project, and they defend trying it out.

"We are always open to new ideas. Yesteryear's technology may not be the best for today or tomorrow. We try very hard to avoid the status quo," said state Republican Chair Terry A. Strine.

"For 34 years we've done it the normal way. What's it gotten us? We're working hard. We'll know in nine months whether we're right," said Senate Minority Leader John C. Still III, a Dover Republican.

As a rule, legislators are reflexively skittish about their re-election prospects, even the ones in safe districts, so it says something when Blevins, who believes the Republicans targeted her district, shrugs off the postcards.

"I think the Republican Party is recruiting, but they must have trouble if this is the way they're doing it. It's kind of scattershot," Blevins said.

The postcards seem to have all the charm of a dating service that advertises on matchbooks -- and about as desperate.

"This is not desperate. This is well thought out," Still said.