Posted: Feb. 7, 2013
By Celia Cohen
Tom Wagner figures he will be a marked man in 2014.
No kidding. As the last Republican in Delaware in statewide office, what else do the Democrats have to shoot for?
Wagner has been the state auditor since he was appointed to fill a vacancy in 1989 by Mike Castle, the Republican governor who later became the state's longest-serving congressman. Wagner was elected on his own in 1990 and has been winning every four years since.
Except "skating through" might be a better way to describe his performance at the polls lately. After tallying a pedestrian 54 percent of the vote in 2006, he barely cleared 50 percent in 2010.
Wagner is notorious for running bare-bones campaigns -- mostly because he has to, reluctant as he is to ask people for contributions. He has regarded his skinflint ways as a badge of honor, an auditor modest with money, but he knows the time has come to wake up and raise the greenbacks.
"I'm proud of it, but in the reality of Delaware politics today, you can't do that anymore. We have already started the process to raise a substantial amount of money," Wagner said.
Wagner is starting out all but broke.
This is not the way to scare off potential opponents, as sitting officeholders generally like to do, by building up a daunting treasury. The campaign finance report Wagner recently filed for 2012 shows him with $1,500 available.
It is a far cry from the amounts most of the other statewide officials who are up for election in 2014 have salted away, according to their 2012 financial records available from the Federal Election Commission, the state election commissioner and the Center for Responsive Politics.
Chris Coons, the Democratic senator, has banked a robust $807,000. He showed off his fund-raising chops four years ago when he pulled in $3.8 million on his way to an everlasting reputation as the guy who beat Christine O'Donnell.
John Carney, the Democratic congressman, has $521,000 in his campaign account, which amounts to about one-third of all the money he collected for the 2012 election.
There was hardly a question that Beau Biden, the Democratic attorney general, would be a magnet for money, not with him sharing the most famous name in state politics since maybe Caesar Rodney. Biden is sitting on $99,000 for now, but he topped a million dollars in contributions for his 2010 race, even though the Republicans did not even bother to put up an opponent.
Only Chip Flowers, the Democratic treasurer, looks to be in the same financial shape as Wagner, but looks may be deceiving in this case. Flowers, a lawyer, largely self-financed his 2010 campaign and presumably could do so again.
Wagner goes into the 2014 election as the last link to the Republicans' good old days.
Over the last 15 years, from the time the Republicans held six of the nine statewide offices, they have lost a state treasurer, an attorney general and an insurance commissioner, along with Bill Roth, the iconic senator, and Mike Castle, felled by his own party in a primary for senator.
Wagner nearly joined them. He raised a meagerly $86,000 in 2010 to come out 2,600 votes ahead, enough to thwart the ambitions of Richard Korn, the Democratic candidate.
Korn, as people know now, was shockingly arrested last month for dealing in child pornography and also went to court to sue his own mother for money.
Wagner's showing once seemed sort of woeful, but really, it is looking better all the time.