Posted: March 29, 2011


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

The Delaware Republicans are looking for their fifth state chair in ten years. This is not good.

They have tried moderate. They have tried conservative. They have tried upstate. They have tried downstate. They have even tried Pennsylvanian.

The out-of-stater was Terry Strine, whose home in Chateau Country was on the wrong side of a country lane that meandered like a tipsy tourist in and out of Delaware and Pennsylvania. So Mason and Dixon should get to decide everything?

Strine pretended confusion about where the state line was. It possibly could have been forgiven, except he was also pretending to know how to run a political party. He could fix his residency with an apartment in Wilmington, but not even Miss Cleo could have helped him channel Karl Rove.

The Republicans since 2001 have been through Basil Battaglia, Everett Moore, Strine and Tom Ross as their state chairs to no avail.

Battaglia, a longtime chair, was shuffled aside after Bill Roth lost his Senate seat in 2000. Moore harnessed post-September 11 patriotism to make Republican advances in 2002 and then got out while the going was good. Strine left the party in freefall. Ross tried to revive the moderate formula that used to work for the Republicans but got clothes-lined by the Tea Party in 2010. 

As if it was not bad enough that the Republicans have lost five elections for governor in a row, got themselves locked out of the congressional delegation and reduced to the minority in the General Assembly, the Democrats had to go out and get themselves the glory of a vice president.

By the way, the Democrats have had only two state chairs, first Rick Bayard and now John Daniello, over the last decade. Nor is there much chance the reason is the Democrats elect their chairs for four years and the Republicans for two.

The Republicans will be electing a new state chair on April 30 at a convention in Dover. And people think the governor has it hard, trying to find someone to turn around DelDOT.

The party is not a pretty sight. It is bitterly split between the regulars who think Christine O'Donnell cost the party the election and the Tea Party types who think the party cost Christine O'Donnell the election, although the view from outside seems rather clear.

"The Delaware Republican Party is barely functional after the disastrous candidacy of 2010 Senate nominee Christine O'Donnell, who sunk the GOP ticket," wrote Larry Sabato, the director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia.

The party has three candidates for state chair, although there is less suspense to this race than deciding which hand holds the M&Ms, which melt in your mouth and not in your hand.

The front-runner is John Sigler, who is as close to a consensus candidate as the party could dare hope for. The regulars respect him because he has toiled in their midst, most notably as a Kent County Republican chair, and everybody else had better, because he used to be the president of the National Rifle Association.

The other candidates are Don Ayotte, a Sussex County Republican who proposes to unite the party by hosting a big picnic, and Mike Protack, a New Castle County Republican who runs for everything.

By one count, Protack is making his eighth try for elected or party office -- senator, governor, New Castle County Council, whatever, without winning anything. At some point the line is crossed between being a perennial candidate and a compulsive candidate.

Protack has gone a dimension beyond Christine O'Donnell, who ran for senator three times and famously had her campaign kick in for rent. O'Donnell was running to live. Protack is living to run.

The three candidates are making the rounds of Republican gatherings, and the whole subject of Tom Ross deciding not to run without making it official is politely being avoided.

Never mind. Ross left behind an impression for the ages with his last major public appearance in February at a Sussex County Republican meeting, where people demanded to know why he had said O'Donnell could not get elected dogcatcher.

"Why did I say it? Because it was true," Ross fired back, and all hell broke lose.

There are worse ways to be remembered. Hi-yo Silver, and away.