Posted: March 27, 2008


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

Another delusion of a candidate for governor was dashed from the Delaware Republicans' heads.

Terry Strine, the state chair, was a-twitter that he would be able to tell the party leadership at an executive meeting Wednesday evening that Donna Stone, a state representative from Dover, was willing to put an end to the most embarrassing gap in Republican politics since 18 1/2 minutes were erased during the Watergate scandal from a Nixonian tape.

Shortly before the meeting, Stone said no.

She became the fourth "name" Republican -- along with Alan Levin of Happy Harry's fame, retired Judge Bill Lee and House Speaker Terry Spence -- not to walk that plank.

If the Republicans could not get a candidate out of Stone, at least she got something out of them. Before waltzing away, her coyness in entertaining the prospect brought her a lot of flattering attention for a time. Several Republicans mentioned she heard from former Gov. Pete du Pont.

Stone could not be reached for comment. About a month ago in Legislative Hall in Dover, however, she was asked offhandedly about running for governor and said, "Do I look that dumb?"

Apparently some Republicans thought she did.

"Donna Stone, much to our surprise and disappointment, said no," Strine said.

There had been some optimism in the Republican ranks that Stone could be tempted into the statewide limelight, despite the daunting nature of a late-entry campaign against either Lt. Gov. John Carney or Treasurer Jack Markell, whoever wins the Democratic nomination, because it would let her gracefully sidestep a dogfight for her own seat.

Stone is dealing with a vigorous challenge in her Dover area district from Brad Bennett, a Democrat whose father once held the seat. Ed Bennett gave it up in 1994 for an unsuccessful state Senate race to create the opening for Stone to go to the state House of Representatives. There has been nothing to indicate she is intimidated, however.

Stone could have made a decent gubernatorial candidate, someone who thrives in the public eye and gives off a brassy twinkle that lets her come across with a personable and confident air. In addition to her experience as a local lawmaker, she is serving a term as the president of the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Strine cited Stone's national post, which includes international appearances, as her rationale for not running. "It's a wonderful opportunity. In the end, she thought she couldn't do justice to a campaign," he said.

As the Republicans are left again without a solid candidate, Strine is starting to hear reminders of an old Delaware tradition that says the state chair must run for governor if no one else will.

The Democrats came perilously close to invoking that tradition in 1988, when Republican Mike Castle was running for his second term as governor before he moved on to his current assignment as the state's lone congressman. Sam Shipley, then the Democratic state chair, escaped in a last-minute rescue from Jake Kreshtool, a lawyer who got clobbered in the election.

A version did occur on the Republican side in 1976. Basil Battaglia, best known for his days as a long-serving Republican state chair, was the Wilmington chair at the time and ran for mayor when no one else came forward against Bill McLaughlin, a Democrat who was a shoo-in.

Their race led to one of the most memorable moments in the state's political history, as emotions boiled over in a televised debate, the candidates scuffled, the moderator was knocked over and McLaughlin's wife Mary rushed in to bash Battaglia with her purse.

Strine is having none of this custom. "That's not a tradition for me," he said.

It leaves Strine in an uncomfortable position. Not only does he still lack a credible candidate for governor, he is a captain looking for someone to do what he will not do himself.