Posted: March 4, 2006; updated: March 6, 2006 with comment from Little


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

The Republicans probably could have used a better entry into their campaign against U.S. Sen. Thomas R. Carper, the Democrat with the record for statewide victories, than to have their likely nominee sucker-punched by their own.

Nevertheless, Jan C. Ting was forced to defend himself Friday evening against his past and accusations that he was not fit to run because he protested against the Vietnam War as a student more than 30 years ago.

So much for the Republicans learning from Vice President Dick Cheney that it only hurts themselves to shoot another Republican.

It scuffed what was otherwise a triumphant debut for Ting at a party event -- the Delaware Republicans' annual winter meeting with a straw poll of its U.S. Senate candidates during a dinner at the Christiana Hilton.

Ting, a Temple University law professor who once chaired the Brandywine Hundred Republicans, easily prevailed with 79 percent of the vote against Michael D. Protack, an airline pilot with an obsession for running for high office in a bashing, him-against-the-world style.

Ting won 64-16 with one abstaining in a secret-ballot vote of the members of the Republican State Committee, the party's governing structure. Straw polls typically are too phony to mean anything -- won by the candidate who buys up the most tickets -- but this one with its restricted voting provides a gauge of the candidates' backing within the party leadership.

Ting raised his arms in victory when the results were announced and responded to the applause with perhaps the most pleasing remarks he could have delivered -- "Thank you, please celebrate with us and have a drink."

Priscilla B. Rakestraw, the Republican national committeewoman who is an honorary chair of Ting's campaign, called the vote "a sharp message for positive campaigning."

Protack shrugged off the defeat, saying it was not surprising. Thomas L. Little, the lawyer for Protack's campaign, spun his candidate's showing as a significant measure of success. "If he got 20 percent in here, he won. It was a hateful crowd," Little said.

Little apologized afterwards for his wording and said he meant to say, "They as a group hate him." He said the contest was fair, and he enjoyed being part of the American political experience.

The straw poll demonstrated the state committee members' rejection of two anti-Ting letters circulated among them in the week beforehand. The letters criticized Ting for his Vietnam-era activities and suggested he would cost the Republicans the veterans' vote if he became the nominee.

Peter J. Kopf, a former Brandywine Hundred Republican chair, sent one letter. The other, written on the letterhead of the Delaware chapter of the Air Force Association, a veterans' group, was signed by Richard B. Bundy and Arthur G. Ericson. None of them could be found at the dinner.

Ting acknowledged he was "on the wrong side of the Vietnam War debate" and said he regretted it. He was not interested in talking about what he had done, however, sidestepping questions about the depth of his involvement in war protests or even whether he had long hair -- "my dad thought it was long."

Ting said he changed his mind after meeting Vietnam refugees and finding out about the travails of his own Chinese relatives under Mao's Cultural Revolution. By 1979, he said, he was organizing law professors for Ronald Reagan.

Ting's chagrin over his days of protesting made him one Republican who could relate to Cheney. "You know how Dick Cheney felt when he shot his friend in the face? That's how I felt. I had made a mistake," he said.

Ting believes Protack was behind the effort to discredit him. Protack said he was not.

Republican officials pleaded throughout the evening for the party to unite and to resist attack politics. "We need to support whoever comes out [the winner] of these type events," said U.S. Rep. Michael N. Castle. "You've got to be very careful who you insult, because it's going to get back to them before the night's out."

The party leaders are unlikely to get their wish. Protack opened his remarks at the dinner with a limp joke about the difference between a mob boss and a political boss -- "there's some things the mob boss just won't do" -- and ended the evening by vowing to battle Ting all the way through the state convention in April, when the party endorses a statewide slate, to the primary in September, when the nominee is elected.

"Absolutely," Protack said. "Absolutely."