Posted: March 23, 2010


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

Michele Rollins is not officially a congressional candidate yet, and Neil Newhouse is not officially her pollster yet, but wait for it.

They were the center of attention Monday evening at a Republican dinner in Rehoboth Beach.

The event was a makeup Lincoln Day celebration, moved from February because of all the snow that made Delaware feel more like Valley Forge. Better to leave it to George Washington, and fete Old Abe in March.

The Republicans -- about 75 of them hosted by the Sussex County Republican Women's Club and the Eastern Sussex Republican Club -- were in a fine mood.

They have not looked forward to an election this much since 1994, when their party took over both houses of the Congress and their statewide candidates here swept all five offices on the ballot.

The 2010 election may not be 1994 redux, but the prospects for the Delaware Republicans are more promising than they have been since a decade-long slide left them clinging to two of the nine statewide offices and marooned in the minority of the General Assembly.

It did not hurt their optimism that Newhouse was the pollster for Scott Brown, the new Republican senator who pulled off the Teddy Turnaround in Massachusetts.

"We've got a big year ahead of us. This is our year, folks," said Tom Ross, the state chair.

The Republicans were so merry, they did not even mind comparisons between Abraham Lincoln and Barack Obama. They listened to this reading:

Lincoln came from Illinois. Obama comes from Illinois.

Lincoln served in the Illinois legislature. Obama served in the Illinois legislature.

Lincoln was a skinny lawyer. Obama is a skinny lawyer.

Lincoln was a Republican. Obama is a skinny lawyer.

Lincoln was born in the United States. Obama is a skinny lawyer.

The Republicans anticipate a comeback at the polls because of the restlessness among voters amid the long economic stagnation, the history of the president's party typically losing ground at mid-term, and the top of the ticket they are crafting.

They expect to field Mike Castle, the nine-term congressman and ex-governor, for senator and Rollins, one of the state's most prominent business executives, for the congressional seat Castle is leaving behind, although both could have primaries first.

The Republicans like their chances against Chris Coons, the New Castle County executive, and John Carney, the former lieutenant governor, at the top of the Democratic ticket.

Because of the congressional schedule, including the voting Sunday night on health care, Castle did not get to the Lincoln Day dinner, so Rollins was the one who was front and centrist.

"Four score and seven days ago, I awoke with a dread that said I can throw my shoe at the TV, but Nancy Pelosi does not go away," Rollins said.

"It is time for those of us who believe in our American system to put aside our wonderful lives and say, the American system is too important to us to sit back and hope that someone fixes it.

"I'm not here to announce tonight, but I'm here to tell you I'm very close in the process to making that decision, because we cannot allow our grandchildren to be deprived of the lives and opportunities we had growing up as children in America."

Newhouse was the featured speaker, bringing respected credentials and fresh polling to buoy the crowd even more. Not to mention his familiarity with Delaware.

Newhouse lives Inside-the-Beltway but also has a place in Bethany. He has done work for Castle and was ready to do the same for Alan Levin, supposed to be the Republicans' 2008 candidate for governor until he backed out.

Levin wound up as a Republican among Democrats as Gov. Jack Markell's economic development director. Levin was at the dinner, though. He made the point he regards his job creation as nonpartisan but his politics as partisan.

"I have seen a lot coming out of the Republicans. I think the General Assembly is up for grabs. Speaker Gilligan may not be happy to hear me say that," Levin said.

Newhouse was part pollster and part recruiter, telling the Republicans they could capitalize on a political environment in which 59 percent of the voters think the country is on the wrong track, Obama's approval rating has tanked, and people see government encroaching on them, not helping them.

"This is the single best year for the Republicans since 1994. If you ever wanted to run for office as a Republican, this is the year," Newhouse said -- with one caveat. "Scott Brown's election was an early wakeup call for the Democrats. This is why it's not 1994 all over again."

Newhouse ended with a story about Ty Cobb, who was legendary not only as a baseball player but as a carouser.

Cobb's manager tried a demonstration to discourage his player from boozing. First the manager put an earthworm in a glass of water. The earthworm swam freely. Next the manager put the earthworm in a glass of gin. It died. The manager asked Cobb what he had learned.

"If I drink gin, I won't get worms," Cobb said.

Newhouse did not add what the moral of the story was, but it was plain. That is, if a pollster tells you something and it does not come true, you must have misunderstood him.