Posted: March 21, 2011


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

A bumper sticker offered to people at the Sussex County Democrats' annual spring dinner on Saturday read, "Sussex Counts."

It had nothing to do with a new episode on "Sesame Street." Not the census, either.

The bumper sticker was from the Shore Democrats. It was meant as a reminder to the rest of the Delaware Democratic Party not to write off the state's southernmost county as a bunch of Tea Party-rooting, birther-believing, Christine O'Donnell-loving diehards.

Not that anyone could tell from the 2010 election. There were 20 races on the Sussex County ballot, everything from U.S. senator to the county sheriff, and the Democrats won only four of them -- a statewide race for attorney general and three local races for legislators who were re-elected.

They get no credit, of course, for attorney general. It was a forfeit. The Republicans did not bother to field a candidate against Beau Biden, not with his clout to summon vice presidential firepower. Biden's only opponent was a protest candidate. Even so, the place is so conservative that nearly 17,000 Sussex Countians voted against him.

It is not good that the Sussex Democrats were saddled with their sad-sack record in an election year when the Republicans were almost run out of the state. The Republicans are down to the auditor as their only statewide officeholder and sunk in the minority in the General Assembly.

There are actually about 3,000 more Democrats than Republicans on the Sussex voter registration rolls, but they are wobbly.

"We have the advantage when it comes to voting, but we don't, because they don't vote," said Pete Schwartzkopf, the House Democratic majority leader who is from Sussex County.

With so much Democratic momentum in Delaware, it is not a lot of fun to be left out. The theme of the Sussex spring dinner was "Reflections." It seemed like a code word for look-in-the-mirror.

The Sussex Democrats did raise their own spirits by selling out the event, which drew about 200 people to the Cheer Community Center in Georgetown. Nor could they ask for a better opportunity for a comeback than the 2012 election.

Not only are the Republicans in dire condition, but the top of the Democratic ticket should be power-packed with an all-incumbent slate of Tom Carper for senator, John Carney for congressman, Jack Markell for governor, Matt Denn for lieutenant governor and Karen Weldin Stewart for insurance commissioner -- although Stewart might not want to take anything for granted.

The Sussex dinner was notable for its enormous density per square foot of candidates for insurance commissioner, people who have had, have or might have designs on running for the office -- even excluding Denn, who spent a term there before he was elected lieutenant governor.

The concentration was enough to make an actuary swoon. It was also enough to flag Stewart as a shaky incumbent who could be primary bait.

Stewart attended the dinner. So did Gene Reed Jr., who lost the 2008 primary for insurance commissioner, John Brady, who was the 2008 Republican candidate but has switched parties, and Mitch Crane, the Stonewall Democrats' president who works in the Insurance Department.

Not to mention there had to be a reason Bryon Short, a state representative who came all the way to the dinner from the state's northernmost reaches, was introduced as the "chairman of the House Insurance Committee."

The dinner had a healthy representation of the Democrats' statewide contingent, namely Carper, Carney, Denn, Stewart and Chip Flowers, the treasurer. Markell, Biden and Chris Coons, the other senator, sent word they had commitments elsewhere.

Only Carper, Carney and Denn were invited to give speeches. It was just as well. If all eight of the statewide officeholders were present and speaking, the spring dinner might have lasted long enough to become the summer dinner.