Posted: Feb. 21, 2012


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

The Sussex County Republicans did not have a Stephen A. Douglas Day Dinner. They did not have a George B. McClellan Day Dinner.

The Sussex Republicans had a Lincoln Day Dinner, even though Honest Abe never did carry Delaware in his presidential campaigns, not in 1860 when the Democratic candidate was Douglas or in 1864 when it was McClellan.

A century and a half later, the political cover-up is still going on.

The Sussex Republicans met on Monday, Presidents Day, with about 90 people gathering at the Atlantic Sands Hotel in Rehoboth Beach in recognition of the party's famous patriarch.

The glory really did belong to Lincoln. The event was an early showcase for the top of the statewide ticket the Republicans are putting together for the 2012 election, and the candidates are not exactly as well-known as Lincoln.

They may not even be as well-known as Lincoln Willis, the Republican legislator from Dover.

The Democrats have an all-incumbent lineup of Tom Carper for senator, John Carney for congressman, Jack Markell for governor and Matt Denn for lieutenant governor.

The Republicans have Kevin Wade, a systems engineer, for senator, Tom Kovach, a lawyer who is the New Castle County Council president, for congressman, Jeff Cragg, a businessman, for governor, and Sher Valenzuela, a businesswoman, for lieutenant governor.

John Sigler, the Republican state chair, has characterized the ticket as "real people." This is usually code for: Not even we know who these candidates are.

All of the statewide and local speakers at the dinner were supposed to relate something about themselves or their campaign to Lincoln in no more than four minutes. It was not much time. It was like speed dating for politicians.

Kovach pretty much had to go with saying he was a lawyer, like Lincoln. Ruth Briggs King, the Republican state representative from Georgetown, opted for a quick history lesson, reminding the Republicans as they try to rebuild that Lincoln did not win all of his elections, either.

Only Joe Booth, the state senator from Georgetown, tried to push past the four-minute limit. He protested that state senators ought to get twice the time as state representatives, but Mary Spicer, the event chair, still hustled him away from the microphone. Booth has issues with Lincoln Day dinners, anyway.

"Being a Booth with the first two initials of 'J.W.,' it's made it a very interesting event for me to attend," he quipped.

If there was ever a doubt this was a roomful of Republicans, it was dispelled by the Lincoln quotation cited most often by the array of speakers. They quoted, "You cannot help the poor by destroying the rich."

Just one problem. Lincoln never said it.

The Illinois Historic Preservation Agency says the misattribution happens a lot. Even Ronald Reagan fell for it. The words really belonged to William John Henry Boetcker, a minister who was not even born until 1873, after Lincoln was dead.

The last speakers were the ones people were waiting for. The location of the dinner happened to be in the new 6th Senate District, created by redistricting to accommodate the growing population in coastal Sussex. An open senatorial district does not come along very often, so it is not a surprise there is a Republican primary for a seat the Republicans think they should win.

The primary is between Ernie Lopez, a 4-H extension specialist at the University of Delaware, and Glen Urquhart, a retired developer who ran for congressman in 2010. They had the final word.

Lopez noted he would like to be the first Republican state senator from the new district, just as Lincoln was the first Republican president. Urquhart warned of a new threat to liberty -- "not slavery to plantation owners, but bondage to big government."

Lopez also tried to get everyone to sing the "Battle Hymn of the Republic." Some people sang along. Some people did not. The ones who did not were probably partisans for Urquhart. Either that, or holdouts for George McClellan.