Posted: Feb. 26, 2008


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

State Sen. John Still once envisioned himself as the vanguard of a new Republican majority that would propel the party back to pre-eminence in Delaware, where the Democrats have been rising steadily for a decade and a half.

He had a salesman's confidence to do it, as a Dover insurance broker by trade and a cheerful conservative by disposition.

Still maneuvered himself into becoming the Senate minority leader in 2003. He boldly predicted the Republican caucus would end 25 years in the wilderness by seizing the majority by the 2008 election. He encouraged the proposition that he could be the candidate for governor that year, too.

None of his mighty predictions came to pass, and now Still has bowed out.

Still announced Monday he would not run for re-election, ending 20 years in the Senate this November. He made his decision public in Legislative Hall in Dover.

It was billed as a press conference, but the room held so many Republican well-wishers, about 50 of them, that it seemed more like a tribute, and reporters knew better than to ask questions until they got Still off to the side afterwards. Tributes and press conferences simply do not mix.

"I just thought the time was right," said Still, who is 55. "I wanted to spend more time on my business and travel."

Still has experienced a series of setbacks from his political dreams. Only 541 votes prevented him from being upset in 2004 by Brian Bushweller, a Democrat recently retired as U.S. Sen. Tom Carper's state director, who is running again. Still also lost his position as minority leader last year to state Sen. Charlie Copeland, and his aspirations for governor went with it.

The time for Still was not really right, but wrong.

As Still un-declared his candidacy, he was cushioned by the presence of others who knew firsthand the whip and whim of politics. Congressman Mike Castle and Auditor Tom Wagner, the only two Republican statewide officeholders, were there, and so was a supporting cast of state legislators.

Castle spoke, making the point -- no doubt subliminally -- that he did what Still once hoped to do, rising from from the General Assembly to governor.

"My name is Mike Castle. I used to be a state senator, too," he said wittily.

Still took the opportunity to introduce the Republican he was endorsing for his seat. The candidate was James Hutchison, known best as "Hutch," who was Dover's mayor for 10 years until 2004 and also its former police chief, now a Commerce Bank vice president.

"I guarantee you that I'm not running for second place," Hutchison said.

It was probably a rebuttal to a telephone message that Bushweller had left to welcome Hutchison to the race. "I told him, it wouldn't bother me a bit if he came in a close second," Bushweller said.

Bushweller has a Democratic registration advantage on his side. Hutchison has the voters' familiarity from his years as mayor. It ought to be a competitive race, most likely the showcase contest for the Senate, as the Democrats try to pad their 13-8 edge in the chamber.

It was another sign that nothing is easy for the Republicans anymore. Castle could not help but mention the party's fallen state as he set out to praise Hutchison.

"He is well-respected in both political parties. I am delighted he is running as a Republican for the state Senate seat. I'm sure that other party out there would love to have him," Castle said.

"I cannot imagine a better candidate on a local basis to run for office. As a matter of fact, Hutch, if you don't run in the local race, we're still looking for a candidate for governor."