Posted: March 6, 2007


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

James T. Bowers, the Republicans' choice to run in the Brandywine Hundred special election, declared his candidacy Tuesday at Stanley's Tavern -- which meant he did it beneath a bank of televisions showing advertisements for "half-price margaritas" and the "best rack in town," ribs hawked by a caricature of a flirtatious blonde cooing, "It's OK to have sticky fingers."

It seemed a little incompatible with the image Bowers and the Republicans were trying to project of a church-going family man with solid conservative values and a heart devoted to the community, but nothing screams "Brandywine Hundred" more than Stanley's friendly neighborhood establishment, so it is what it is.

The Democrats may take a different approach, though. "Maybe we should have ours at Holy Rosary Church," one cracked.

This race is on -- the one neither party saw coming a week ago. It was only last Tuesday, a peaceful world ago, when state Rep. Wayne A. Smith, the House Republican majority leader, sprung the surprise that he was resigning, effective next Monday, to run a health care trade association.

No date has been set yet to replace Smith in the special election, which probably will be held sometime in April, but it has not stopped the parties from surging into full campaign mode. This past weekend, the Republicans whistled up their candidate, and the Democrats hit the streets with a literature drop, alerting their voters that an election was coming, even though they still lack someone to run in it.

The campaign is expected to be ferocious. It will not change the control of the House of Representatives, where the Republicans have a 23-18 majority, but the Republicans have seen the Democrats encroach on Brandywine Hundred, which used to be a Republican fortress, and they are determined to keep this seat.

Jim Bowers has uplifted Republicans' spirits -- just the sort of candidate they wanted as they prepare to capitalize on their 500-vote edge in the district and their record for beating the Democrats more often than not in special elections.

Bowers, 48, is a lifelong resident of Brandywine Hundred, Archmere '76, Notre Dame '80, a sales manager for Verizon -- "For those of you who go way back, I used to work for Diamond State Telephone Co." -- active in Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church, the Republican Party, the coaching scene and his civic association in Clair Manor, where he lives next door to Wayne Smith.

"Jim Bowers is loyal, Jim Bowers is committed, and Jim Bowers is going to win this race," said state Rep. Gregory F. Lavelle, another Brandywine Hundred Republican who introduced Bowers at Stanley's to a crowd of about 50 people, clapping and cheering for him.

"Jim's a great guy. I've got a lot of confidence in him. He'll make a great representative," Smith said in a telephone interview. He had to miss the opening campaign ceremonies because he is immersed already in his new job at the Delaware Healthcare Association, based in Dover.

For special elections, the parties designate the candidates. Bowers was chosen Friday evening by an eight-member search committee that selected him from a field of four applicants, also including: Philip Lavelle, who is Greg Lavelle's brother; Timothy E. Lengkeek, a lawyer; and Judy Travis, founder of Christmas Stockings for Soldiers.

The search committee met behind closed doors and did its best -- although it was not enough -- to keep their choice a secret until the official announcement. This is what passes in the Republican Party for what Greg Lavelle called an "open process."

The Democrats are proceeding somewhat differently. They have a public meeting scheduled Thursday evening for potential candidates to make their pitch, although the party has yet to decide whether the final selection on Monday evening will be made in the open.

"Open government is a big issue, so we're trying to make this as open as possible . . . according to our rules," quipped James F. Paoli, the New Castle County Democratic chair.

The Democratic field is not settled, but some of the contenders are: David D. Brady, a former state representative who lost to Smith when their districts were combined in 2002 for redistricting; Carl Colantuono, who ran against Smith in 2006; Bryon H. Short, a former aide to U.S. Sen. Thomas R. Carper when he was a congressman and governor; and Stephen P. Tanzer, who ran against Smith in 2004.

Because a special election is such a sprint, both parties want candidates with campaign experience. Bowers ran get-out-the-vote operations in 2000 and 2002 when he was the Brandywine Region Republican Committee's vice chair.

Bowers still has some cramming to do on issues, however. He punted when asked his position on embryonic stem cell research -- "I would have to see the bill in detail. I am a Catholic" -- but was more comfortable promising to carry on for Smith in the effort to undo an unpopular ban prohibiting leaves, grass or other yard clippings from trash collections.

Bowers also was emphatically against legislators taking gifts or receiving pay raises in excess of what state workers get.

It was not a bad start -- a candidate who knew "it's OK to have sticky fingers" in Stanley's but not in Legislative Hall.