Posted: April 7, 2006


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

With the top statewide spots spoken for, both the Democrats and the Republicans are hustling to fill the last openings in their lineups, the Democrats for auditor and the Republicans for treasurer, with each party entertaining a prospect.

George Minkalis, a banker who is new to Delaware politics after moving here from Illinois about five years ago, is making the rounds of Democratic functions to offer himself as a candidate against Auditor R. Thomas Wagner Jr., the Republican who has held the office since 1989.

Minkalis, 35, of Todd Estates near Newark, showed up for a Progressive Democrats meeting Wednesday at the state party's headquarters in New Castle and a legislative leadership reception Thursday in Dover.

The Republicans are waiting to hear from state Sen. Colin R.J. Bonini, whose name often pops up as a possibility for statewide office, if he is willing to challenge Treasurer Jack A. Markell, the two-term Democrat regarded as a contender for governor in 2008.

Bonini, 40, of Dover, acknowledges he is thinking about it but is not ready to make up his mind. A state senator since 1994, he is in the middle of a four-year term and would not have to resign to run.

Although the filing deadline for statewide office is not until July 28, the time already is growing late for a serious campaign.

The Republicans also are racing to beat another deadline -- their state convention, set for April 28-29, when they vote to endorse statewide candidates and would prefer not to deal with the political ramifications of an empty place on their ballot. (The Democratic Party rules do not provide for an endorsing convention, but leave it up to the state executive committee.)

Both parties are going into the campaign season with two statewide incumbents -- U.S. Sen. Thomas R. Carper and Markell for the Democrats, and U.S. Rep. Michael N. Castle and Wagner for the Republicans.

The Democrats expect the rest of their ticket to include Joseph R. "Beau" Biden III for attorney general and Dennis Spivack for the state's only seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.

The Republicans have coalesced around Ferris W. Wharton for attorney general, but they still have to sort out their senatorial nomination with Jan C. Ting expected to dispense with Michael D. Protack, a perennial also-ran.

Minkalis -- his name is pronounced Min-KAL-is -- has surfaced as a potential candidate for auditor about two weeks after Robert B. Wasserbach, the 2002 nominee, decided against a rematch with Wagner.

If Minkalis gets the party's nod, it would be the second election in a row that a forlorn hole on the ballot was plugged with the help of Martha A. Denison, the Democratic chair for the 24th Representative District in the Newark-Glasgow area, where Minkalis also lives. In 2004 Denison came up with Paul Donnelly, who went meekly against Castle but at least was there.

Minkalis originally was being mentioned as a legislative challenger for state Rep. William A. Oberle Jr., a Republican first elected in 1976, but Oberle has a lot of friends in the labor unions with sway in the Democratic Party and an interest in keeping him in office.

Minkalis, who used to live in Chicago where the politics is all about connections, was smart enough to realize that switching to auditor was something he ought not to refuse.

"It was a lot better fit," Minkalis said. "I'm looking to get into state politics, but I don't want to do it by upsetting people."