Posted: March 5, 2010
THE POINT OF NO POLITICAL RETURNS
By Celia Cohen
The calendar is no friend of the Delaware Republicans. They need candidates. Now.
The Republicans' statewide ballot looks like a hockey player's smile, flashing gaps where there ought not to be any.
Especially not for anything as attractive as an open race for the state's lone congressional seat. Ditto for attorney general and the pure partisan pleasure of taking on a Biden, the name Republicans love to hate.
Officially the candidates' filing deadline is not until the end of July, but it is the political equivalent of Fantasy Island to think someone can drop out of blue at that late date and charm the voters.
All right, maybe Pete du Pont could if he wanted his old congressional seat back, after gladly shedding it in the 1970s for governor, but that really is the stuff of fantasy for the Republicans.
With the election eight months away, the time is closing fast for legitimate statewide candidacies.
"It depends on your personal resources or the financial commitment of your backers, but you've still got to be out there six or eight months out," said Bill Lee, the ex-judge who was the Republican nominee for governor in 2004 and 2008.
There simply comes a point a candidate cannot catch up in terms of money and organization.
Not unless the Democrats in Delaware implode like the Democrats in New York, where the governor is being investigated for shaking down the Yankees for World Series tickets, a congressman took corporate handouts to go to the Caribbean, and another congressman is suspected of sexually harassing a male aide.
No political suicide here. Just political science.
"Every race is different, but there are four big issues. Who the candidates are, what kind of financial resources they have, manpower -- and time. They can vary about which is more important," said Ed Freel, the political strategist for Sen. Tom Carper and secretary of state when Carper was governor.
Ferris Wharton, the Republican who ran for attorney general in 2006, found it was essential to start his campaign by springtime, as he did, to generate a strong candidacy. He got a respectable 47 percent of the vote against Beau Biden in a Democratic year.
"We raised enough money, and that was one of the things that could have been a factor if we didn't have time to do that," Wharton said. "Things start happening in the spring. You're missing opportunities if you don't get out there."
The potholes in the Republican statewide ballot say something about the condition of the party, which accounts for only two of the nine statewide offices and not even one-third of the voter registration, while the Democratic share is nearly half.
Still, if the Republicans are to make a comeback, this 2010 election is the time to start.
Mike Castle, the most successful Republican in state history, is at the top of the ticket, almost certainly for the last time, and the general sourness of the voters' mood should not do the Democrats any favors as the party in power.
The Republican ticket so far has Castle peeling away from his congressional seat to run for senator, Tom Wagner up for re-election as auditor, and Colin Bonini for treasurer.
The Democratic ticket is not set, either, but the situation is too many candidates, not enough. The Democrats have Chris Coons for Senate, John Carney for Congress, Biden for re-election as attorney general, and primaries for auditor and treasurer.
For the congressional race, there are actually a handful of Republicans who are self-announced candidates, but none rising to the party's attention above the level of don't-call-us-we'll-call-you. The search goes on.
There is not even that much interest for attorney general. Wharton had intentions before Biden U-turned out of the Senate race, but he has different races in mind now. Wharton is getting ready for RAGBRAI, the (Des Moines) Register's Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa, in July and the SavageMan Triathlon in Maryland in September.
Do not look at Bill Lee, either, not for anything. He let himself be drafted two years ago for governor, but no more drafts. "Absolutely not," he said.
Time is passing. This is not to say all late entrants are doomed, because two of the most memorable tales in Delaware political lore show they are not.
Both involve Carper. He was on the beach, when he heard the Democrats had concluded their state convention in June 1976 without a candidate for treasurer and went for it himself. He was running for re-election as treasurer, only to switch races and wage a 95-day campaign in 1982 to take out a Republican congressman tainted by a sex scandal.
Political miracles do happen, but that is the point. They are miracles. It makes more sense to rely on a solid campaign, and the time for one is running out.