Posted: April 25, 2005


There was much to state about the church when the Delaware Republicans held their convention over the weekend in Brandywine Hundred.

It was not because of the opening prayer from Terence Burns, the associate pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Dover. He told the Republicans, "This is the party of God, I truly believe that."

It was because of the keynote speech from R. James Nicholson, the federal Veterans Affairs secretary who used to be the Republican national chairman. In between those assignments, he was the ambassador to the Vatican.

Nicholson was in Rome for the early years of the Bush administration and the last years of Pope John Paul II, and it earned him a place in the presidential delegation to the papal funeral. He flew on Air Force One with the current President George Bush, the earlier President George Bush and President Bill Clinton.

Naturally it was Nicholson's first concentrated exposure to the Democratic ex-president, and he told the Delaware Republicans he found Clinton to be "a frenetic non-stop talker."

Clinton kept after Nicholson to predict the next pope.

"He was unrelenting. He said, 'You've got to give me a name,'" said Nicholson, who tried to brush off Clinton by saying, "Mr. President, the Holy Spirit hasn't spoken to me at all today."

Clinton would not give up until Nicholson broke down. "OK, Cardinal Ratzinger," Nicholson finally said.

With that, Clinton spent his time in Rome predicting correctly to anyone and everyone that Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger would become the next pope, now known as Benedict XVI.

"If I have that kind of influence over President Clinton, maybe we can work on some other things, straighten him out," Nicholson quipped.

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Whenever the political parties gather these days, there is a presence over them as encompassing and essential as the invisible air. It is the 2008 election for governor.

The office will be up for the taking when Gov. Ruth Ann Minner brings her political career to a close, finishing up her second term, the maximum under the state constitution, and the fourth term in a row for the Democrats.

The Democratic Party tends to tiptoe around the topic when it meets, preferring to put off the painful day when it has to choose between Lt. Gov. John C. Carney Jr. and Treasurer Jack A. Markell for the nomination.

The Republican Party by contrast is tiptoeing toward it. Without any clear-cut choices, the Republicans have candidates who make the most of events like the state convention to try to get a toe in the door.

The one who made his way there this time was state Senate Minority Leader John C. Still III, eclipsing state House Majority Leader Wayne A. Smith and state Sen. Charles L. Copeland, all of whom are mentioned as potential candidates.

Still was the only one with a speaking role. He gave a seconding speech for Terry A. Strine, the state chair who was re-elected at the convention, and he also made the most of his opportunity to address the delegates as the Senate leader.

Still dished out the red meat the convention wanted by predicting the Senate would flip to Republican control by 2008. "[Senate President Pro Tem] Thurman Adams is treating us with respect and dignity," Still said, "but we're going to be better off when we have our own pro tem."

Smith and Copeland were relegated to the recognition given to all legislators. Copeland made a bid for attention by giving out water in eight-ounce bottles with his Senate campaign stickers on them.

It led one Republican to quip, "John Still will have 12-ounce bottles of water next time."

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By tradition, the Republicans hold their conventions in election years in Dewey Beach in Sussex County and alternate their conventions in off-years between New Castle County and Kent County.

Despite this lopsided advantage for the Sussex Republicans, they always seem to be unsettled when they have to come all the way north to New Castle County, which they appear to regard as unfamiliarly as France.

A. Judson Bennett, a Sussex Republican with a vast e-mail list through his Coastal Conservative Network, complained that Republican state headquarters, based as it is in big, bad Wilmington, neglected to provide driving instructions to the convention at the DoubleTree Hotel on Concord Pike, so he was.

"If you see the Concord Maul [sic], you've gone too far," Bennett e-mailed.

The gavel barely had fallen to end the convention when John F. Brady, the Sussex County recorder of deeds, changed into a sport shirt decorated with the insignia of his office.

"If I'm found on the road dead," said Brady, tapping the insignia," send me back to Sussex."