Posted: March 6, 2006


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

For nearly all candidates, the campaign trail has way stations at restaurants and pubs, informal gatherings where the tickets go for $25 or $50, and they get to work the crowd in casual settings, cover expenses and put a little extra away.

It is somewhat different when the candidate is Jack A. Markell, the Democratic state treasurer who is running for his third term with $1.5 million in his treasury, about half of it his own money.

When Markell goes out, he picks up the bill. He did it Saturday afternoon, when he laid out $600 or so for sandwiches, soft drinks and side dishes for about 80 people who responded to leaflets inviting Newark voters to Timothy's Restaurant.

This is the luxury that comes from having a flush treasury and being the last statewide candidate without even a ghost of an opponent to spend it against.

The event was part of a kickoff for "Get to Know Jack," a tour that will take Markell throughout Delaware as he runs for re-election -- and whatever else. If it looks gubernatorial and sounds gubernatorial, it must be gubernatorial.

"Get to Know Jack" is the most ambitious program among  the contenders frequently mentioned as replacements for Gov. Ruth Ann Minner, a two-term Democrat who is retiring with the 2008 election.

Lt. Gov. John C. Carney Jr., a fellow Democrat, and state Sen. Charles L. Copeland, a Republican, are making moves, but not that structured.

The voters know what is going on, too, looking beyond Markell's insistence that he is focused on running for treasurer. Before Markell hosted the voters at the restaurant, he took a walking tour of Newark's Main Street and did some door-knocking with state Rep. Teresa L. Schooley, a local Democratic legislator.

When they got to the home of John Mackenzie, a Democrat who is on the Christina school board, Mackenzie called to his two teen-age daughters to meet "the next governor."

Markell let it stand.

"Get to Know Jack" was launched in Newark, because it is the place where Markell, now 45, grew up and met his wife Carla at Newark High School, Class of 1978, before he left for Brown University, the University of Chicago and a whirlwind business career during the telecommunications boom.

It let him move to Chateau Country and get into politics, defeating four-term Republican Treasurer Janet C. Rzewnicki in 1998. His parents still live in Newark, though, and his ties remain. When Markell walked along Main Street, he stopped at Abbott's Shoe Repair to reclaim some shoes he had taken there.

Other politicians know coattails when they see them, and several Democrats grabbed hold for Markell's tour. Most were from the Newark area -- not just Terry Schooley, but New Castle County Council President Paul G. Clark and his council colleague Karen G. Venezky -- but there was also Robert E. Walls, who is running for state representative and came all the way up from Milford to see how it is done.

Venezky seized the moment at the restaurant, as Markell stood at her side with his arm around her shoulder, to announce with some emotion that she would not seek re-election after 14 years on the council. She introduced Stephanie A. McClellan, a University of Delaware professor who once ran for the legislature, as the Democrat who would try for her seat.

Markell kept the political touch light. "There is nothing to kill people having fun like a political speech, so I'm not going to give one," he said.

He explained what he would be doing with "Get to Know Jack" -- a lot of local campaigning that would involve visiting businesses, knocking on doors and meeting with voters at restaurants or perhaps outdoor barbecues in warmer weather.

"We are going to be repeating this up and down the state," Markell said. "In Delaware, that's the way it's done, so that's what we're going to do."

It is on Markell's tab. For someone in the mix for governor, it is an interesting way to stand out. To get the voters to pay attention, it cannot hurt to pay for theirs.