Posted: March 27, 2006


Wharton is in 

Delaware Republicans got the candidate they wanted for attorney general, lining up Ferris W. Wharton and his long resume as a prosecutor to run against Democrat Joseph R. "Beau" Biden III and his political pedigree.

The party announced Wharton's availability Monday morning in a press release that represented the culmination of about a month's worth of work to get him into the race.

The press release left no doubt what the thrust of Wharton's campaign would be -- focusing on the allure of a trial-hardened attorney who has been practicing law since 1978 when Biden was nine years old.

The words "experience" or "experienced" appeared six times in the press release, not to mention "expertise," "seasoned" and "qualified," as in this quotation from William Swain Lee, the Sussex County Republican chair who was the judge when Wharton co-prosecuted Thomas J. Capano:

"Ferris Wharton is the most experienced prosecutor in Delaware. He's been a successful prosecutor at both the state and federal level and is highly regarded around Delaware for his expertise, diligence and competence in fighting for victims. I'm thrilled that Ferris Wharton is ready to serve as our attorney general."

Wharton finds himself in a position to run because of an unusual series of political twists.

It began when M. Jane Brady, the three-term Republican attorney general, unexpectedly decided in the fall not to risk re-election against Biden after a close call in 2002. With a wink from Gov. Ruth Ann Minner, the two-term Democrat, Brady got a Superior Court judgeship -- which, ironically enough, could have gone to Wharton, had Brady not arranged for it.

The Republicans' first choice for a candidate was U.S. Attorney Colm F. Connolly, now Wharton's boss, who got the larger share of the publicity for the prosecution in Capano's murder trial. When Connolly decided to stay where he was, Wharton became a close second choice.

Wharton, 53, of Wilmington, joined the Attorney General's Office in 1980, rising to be the chief deputy for Brady until he switched to the U.S. Attorney's Office in 2003. He left there Friday so he could enter politics and will go to work in mid-April in the Wilmington office of Fox Rothschild, a century-old firm headquartered in Philadelphia.

When Wharton gave up the chief deputy's post, he said he was looking forward to getting back to the courtroom as an assistant U.S. attorney and away from administration. If elected, he would be returning to administration, but he said it would be different -- more policy, as opposed to the personnel issues he handled as the chief deputy.

"The chief deputy stuff is what the attorney general doesn't want to do. This is a whole different order of magnitude," Wharton said.

Wharton has drawn a tough assignment to reverse the Republicans' steady loss of statewide offices, which have dwindled to two out of nine posts since Brady departed in December and was replaced by Carl C. Danberg, a Democrat whom Minner appointed.

Wharton will have to do it against superior Democratic registration and someone who shares one of the best-known names in state politics. Biden, the senator's 37-year-old son, has been a lawyer for 10 years as a federal prosecutor in Philadelphia, National Guard JAG officer and private practitioner in Wilmington.

"I'm looking forward to a serious campaign on the role of the attorney general in Delaware and the issues that are important to Delawareans," Biden said.

Wharton is not ready to start campaigning, but he does have a time in mind.

"When I get back from the Final Four," he said.

Wasserbach is out

In contrast to the Republicans' recruiting success with Wharton, the Democrats lost the candidate they favored for state auditor.

Robert B. Wasserbach, who was the nominee in 2002, told Democratic Party officials he has decided against a rematch with Auditor R. Thomas Wagner Jr., the Republican who has been in office since 1989.

Wasserbach was a walk-on who polled 38 percent of the vote four years ago. Since the election, he left his job as a banker to take appointments to government posts, first as the Wilmington auditor and now the New Castle County auditor.

"Basically it came down to, I've only been at the county since May of last year, and I felt I made a commitment to the county," Wasserbach said.

Wasserbach's decision leaves both parties with a hole on their statewide tickets. The Democrats have to find someone else to take on Wagner, and the Republicans still are searching for a candidate against state Treasurer Jack A. Markell, the Democrat running for his third term this year.