Posted: March 26, 2008


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

Put 30 or so people from one organization in a room, and even if they do not endorse candidates, even if they do not hand out local political contributions, even if they do not necessarily have Democratic leanings, Lt. Gov. John Carney and Treasurer Jack Markell will come.

This is hand-to-hand combat, political style, the rivals for the Democratic nomination for governor going after voters one handshake at a time.

It is the way Delaware voters expect to be courted. It is also the mark of the intensity of this race for Carney and Markell, particularly with the Republicans still floundering without a credible candidate and the governorship perhaps to be settled not so long from now, in the Democratic primary in September on the other side of summer.

The host for their cordial joint appearance was the American Council of Engineering Companies of Delaware, meeting Wednesday at lunchtime at the Christiana Hilton, fittingly not far from the spaghetti-like intersection of Interstate 95 and Delaware 1, the sort of roadwork that keeps the engineers working.

The organization represents 29 firms with somewhere between 650 and 700 employees. The engineers listened as first Markell and then Carney made their case for governor -- Markell with his "I'm running for governor because I think Delaware can do better, and honestly, I believe we have to," and Carney with his "I learned from my parents that the most important thing you can do in life is help other people."

Then the engineers made clear they did not invite Carney and Markell to their lunch out of a sense of civic obligation or as some sort of academic exercise or for entertainment purposes. They asked urgent questions about the state's finances, health care and a shortage of engineers, because their livelihood was at stake. The election was as critical to them as their next contract.

The engineers especially were distressed about the state's depleted Transportation Trust Fund, which pays for construction, but there was no good answer, even though both candidates acknowledged that Delaware cannot build its economy and accommodate its growing population without having the proper roads to get people to their jobs.

Markell rattled off a list of unpopular solutions -- raising tolls or gas taxes, eliminating projects or leasing roads to private contractors -- and then said, "All of them are really hard."

Carney lamented how untenable gas taxes are and then asserted, "We have to have a reliable revenue stream."

The engineers were too practical to expect miracles. Instead, a little understanding would do. One of them told Markell, "I guarantee if you're governor, you'll hear from us again."

His tone seemed a lot like a warning to whoever moved into Woodburn, the Governor's House in Dover -- We're engineers, and we know where the foundation is.

# # #

Delaware is such a small state that there are only so many mailing lists to go around.

It was not really surprising that an invitation for a fund-raiser for Karen Weldin Stewart, who is running against Gene Reed Jr. for the Democratic nomination for insurance commissioner, was sent to the law firm of John Brady, the Republican candidate for insurance commissioner.

Surely, Brady has no interest in contributing to Stewart's campaign? "Not directly," he cracked.

Hmmmm. It sounds like Brady would rather run against Reed.