Posted: April 3, 2006


It's not the name, it's the numbers

Delaware Republicans have been congratulating themselves in the week since they shored up the top of their statewide ticket by recruiting Ferris W. Wharton, a veteran prosecutor, to run for attorney general.

It took perseverance to come up with credible candidates for a lineup to campaign with Congressman-for-life Michael N. Castle.

The party did not get Michele M. Rollins and her millions for the U.S. Senate, but it did get Jan C. Ting, a law professor more comfortable in front of a microphone than she is. It did not get U.S. Attorney Colm F. Connolly and his public profile for attorney general, but it did get Wharton, a former chief deputy attorney general more familiar with the state Justice Department than he is.

Wharton especially has the Republicans feeling buoyant. He is a candidate competing for an open office -- as opposed to Ting, who drew the daunting assignment of taking on U.S. Sen. Thomas R. Carper, the Democratic ex-governor with the most statewide victories in Delaware history.

The Republicans would love to take back the office they gave away when Attorney General M. Jane Brady, a three-term Republican, bolted for the bench last year and Gov. Ruth Ann Minner appointed Carl C. Danberg, a fellow Democrat, to finish out the term. It would give the Republicans even greater joy to do it against Joseph R. "Beau" Biden III, the son of the Democratic senator.

Joe Biden bugs the Republicans worse than incurable insomnia, and they say his son would be nothing if his name were "Beau Smith."

Beau Biden actually has a resume that the Republicans would be unlikely to dismiss if he were theirs -- an ex-prosecutor and National Guard JAG captain -- not to mention the political operation and fund-raising apparatus he brings with him.

After all, the Republicans are looking seriously at state Sen. Charles L. Copeland for governor -- a printing-company owner with modest political credentials but a member of the du Pont family, still the money wing of the party.

The problem for the Republicans is what the odds would be for Wharton even if the Democratic candidate were "Beau Smith." The state's voting trends decidedly have been going the Democrats' way.

Since Jane Brady became attorney general in 1994, the Republicans have not elected anyone new to statewide office.

In the next five elections, the Democrats won all three open offices, installing Gov. Ruth Ann Minner, Lt. Gov. John C. Carney Jr. and Insurance Commissioner Matthew P. Denn, and they picked up two Republican-held offices, ousting U.S. Sen. William V. Roth Jr. with Carper and state Treasurer Janet C. Rzewnicki with Jack A. Markell.

The Democrats' advantage comes from New Castle County, where they have a trove of voters to overwhelm the more conservative leanings of the two less-populous counties downstate.

In the last election, for example, there were more Democrats who voted than there were Republicans registered in New Castle County, according to the state elections department. The only statewide Republican with the standing to overcome that kind of Democratic edge was Castle.

The Republicans have recruited well before. They were thrilled to get Christopher A. Castagno for New Castle County executive and Ernesto B. Lopez for New Castle County Council president in 2004, but not even a county scandal that had "Democrat" written all over it and grudge-making Democratic primaries were enough to bring them open offices. The two candidates barely topped 40 percent.

Even "Beau Smith" could look at a decade of voting returns and be optimistic.

Wharton's credentials are too good for him to be written off as not having a snowball's chance in hell -- more like chestnuts in a fire. It has been a long time since the Republicans have shown they can pull them out.

A good day for politics

Rarely is there a press release with the news in the date. One was sent by Insurance Commissioner Matt Denn, the first-term Democrat.

It was dated "on or about April 1." Get it?

The press release actually was not ascribed to Denn but to Lenny, his pug, who announced his opposition to an idea to make pugs the official dog of Delaware.

"Although I appreciate the sentiment behind the proposal," the press release had Lenny saying, "I am also an American. . . . Because I believe that all dogs are created equal, I cannot support the official sanction of one breed, even my own."

"Lenny" also offered his own legislative agenda, including a Pig's Ear Tax Credit, sentencing reform for pooper-scooper violations and the removal of stale kibble from stores.

There was also a warning to Carl Danberg for not supporting the agenda -- "If he doesn't become more responsive to the pug community, he might just find that his front lawn will become very messy, very messy indeed."

Politicians tend to take themselves so seriously. Denn figured out that if there is one day that ought to be dedicated to them, it is April Fool's Day.