Posted: Feb. 7, 2007


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

Charles L. Copeland, the state Senate's new Republican minority leader, went to Rehoboth Beach on Sunday for the Polar Bear Plunge. Two days later he plunged back into politics with a speech in Seaford.

All of this plunging sure seems to be leading up to an even bigger plunge -- Charlie Copeland for governor in 2008 -- and yet . . .

A funny thing happened just as Copeland was about to speak Tuesday evening. State Rep. Daniel B. Short, the local legislator, was giving the introduction for Copeland to about 60 Western Sussex County Republicans, gathered in a Seaford restaurant for a Ronald Reagan Birthday Bash.

Short, who was holding his baby grandson, said slyly, "Today I decided to put together an exploratory committee for a run for governor . . . for my grandson for 2040."

The baby, nearly a year old, immediately squalled, so Copeland pretended to sob, too. "Because of that, I'm not going to announce that I'm running for governor tonight," he quipped.

Copeland, 43, a Chateau Country senator since 2002, Duke graduate, du Pont family member who owns a printing company, may be the leading candidate to run for governor for a party that has not seen the inside of Woodburn since January 1993, but it is not quite certain that he will.

In fact, there has been some back-room chatter about drafting Ferris W. Wharton, the ex-prosecutor who gave Democrat Joseph R. "Beau" Biden III a scare last year on his way to attorney general.

Wharton would have to explain away one particularly inconvenient statement -- "I don't want to be anything but attorney general" -- but this is politics, after all, where campaign promises tend to disappear like so many Weapons of Mass Destruction.

Not that Wharton himself is showing much drive for another political plunge. "Let's put it this way, I've not formed any exploratory committees," he said Wednesday in a droll telephone interview.

It leaves the Republicans with the opposite dilemma of the Democrats. The Republicans are deciding whether they have the right candidate for governor, while the Democrats are stuck with too many of the right candidate for governor -- because of the rivalry between Lt. Gov. John C. Carney Jr. and Treasurer Jack A. Markell.

Thoughts of Ferris Wharton are a reminder that the Delaware Republicans, despite their proud embrace of Bush 41 and Bush 43, are down on political entitlement these days. Although the Democrats happily fielded every Biden they could find for statewide office, there has been some grumbling in Republican ranks about Copeland's family connections.

He dealt with it obliquely in Seaford by quoting Abraham Lincoln, who said, "We find ourselves under the government of a system of political institutions, conducing more essentially to the ends of civil and religious liberty, than any of which the history of former times tells us. We, when mounting the stage of existence, found ourselves the legal inheritors of these fundamental blessings. We toiled not in the acquirement or establishment of them. . . . 'Tis ours only, to transmit these [blessings] . . . to the latest generation that fate shall permit the world to know."

Copeland said pointedly he did nothing to receive what he has, so he saw his task as clearly as Lincoln saw his. "I'm here to faithfully transfer the blessings of being an American," he said. "That's why I work so hard now."

Copeland recited a catechism of his reasons for being a Republican -- "I believe in small government, and I believe in effective government" -- and he trotted out a campaign theme that would serve against Carney, but not against Markell, who was present at the Big Bang of the telecommunications industry as a Nextel executive.

"The governor and the lieutenant governor are creatures of the bureaucracy. They cannot look at the world through the eyes of an entrepreneur," Copeland said.

In recognition of Sussex County's raging development wars, Copeland came down on the side of property rights. "I'm an environmentalist, just like President Reagan was. Ronald Reagan loved the outdoors. What he didn't believe in was taking something from somebody else," he said. "If I take your property, someone someday is going to come along and take mine."

Copeland was preaching to the Western Sussex choir on this one. He made points with Sam Wilson, the Seaford-area representative district chair, who otherwise seemed to be sizing up Copeland, as was most of the crowd.

Wilson, elaborately unimpressed with the double-major college degree in computer science and physics and the M.B.A. that Copeland earned at Duke, told Copeland he could give him all the philosophy he would need in words of two letters -- If it is to be, it is up to me.

Wilson figured Copeland would do for governor, more or less. "He's the best we've been offered so far," he said.

Copeland's Senate term is up in 2008, so he would have to give up his seat to run for governor. He did not want to say whether he has decided what to do or when he would decide what to do.

"It'll happen," Copeland said.