Posted: April 30, 2007


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

The people with the checkbooks were the first to hear the official word.

"I'm going to be Delaware's next lieutenant governor," said Matthew P. Denn, a Democrat who is spending his third year as Delaware's current insurance commissioner.

Denn let more than 100 people in on his plan -- which will need cooperation from the voters, of course -- at a fund raiser held for him last week on a very pleasant evening at a grand home that overlooks Rockford Park in Wilmington.

It was a crowd that was willing to put its money where Denn's mouth is. He collected about $34,000 for his campaign treasury, which already was respectable. Denn ended 2006 with more than $200,000 in the bank.

Denn's ambition was not exactly a secret. He has been tipping his pitches since Return Day, the post-election celebration held in Georgetown two days after the voting, when mystifying political stickers were spotted. They read, "MDLG08" -- which was a sly way of saying, "Matt Denn, lieutenant governor, '08."

The lieutenant governor in Delaware is elected separately from the governor. Denn is expected to have competition for the Democratic nomination from Theodore Blunt, the Wilmington Council president. The Republican field has not materialized yet.

Denn's audience was drawn heavily from fellow lawyers. There also were some legislators, including state Sen. Patricia M. Blevins and state Reps. John Kowalko, Robert E. Walls and Bryon H. Short, who was elected only days earlier in the Brandywine Hundred special election, as well as City Councilman Charles Potter Jr.

Denn has become something of a cult figure in Democratic politics since he took the stage at the Jefferson-Jackson Dinner last year in Dover and urged his party to take over the state House of Representatives, the Republicans' last bastion in Legislative Hall, where the governor, the lieutenant governor and the state Senate are all Democratic.

Denn blasted the House Republicans for bottling up his legislative package for more affordable health insurance, and it has become a Democratic rallying cry. Even U.S. Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. took it up.

At the fund raiser Denn said his campaign for lieutenant governor would focus on the welfare of Delaware's children, and whether or not he inspired his listeners, they obviously inspired him. "We love it here. We'll be back in 2011," he quipped.

That appearance would coincide with a re-election campaign for lieutenant governor in four years. Denn did not ask people to save the date eight years away in 2015, but the time may come. This is a man with a plan.

It should not be forgotten what Denn did on Return Day in 2004, a scant two days after he was elected insurance commissioner. His political stickers that day had the words "insurance commissioner" crossed out. They were replaced with "governor (2016.)"

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Among the three top Republican presidential candidates, two of them have been to Delaware within the past year. Now the state is about to go three-for-three.

John McCain was here last spring to attend a fund raiser for U.S. Rep. Michael N. Castle in Dewey Beach and to pay his respects in Seaford, the home of two Marines killed a week apart in Iraq.

Rudy Giuliani was honored in January at a Republican gala in Wilmington, and he also plans to return June 14.

That leaves Mitt Romney, now expected to come in June 1. The details are being put in place Wednesday, when Tagg Romney, the candidate's son, arrives for lunch with some backers at the Wilmington law office of Blank Rome.

What Romney still lacks is a "name" Delawarean associated with his campaign, someone whose telephone calls are returned quickly.

McCain has Castle and John R. Matlusky, the Republican national committeeman. Giuliani has Priscilla B. Rakestraw, the Republican national committeewoman, and Frank A. Ursomarso Sr., the auto dealership owner who worked in the White House for Nixon, Ford and Reagan.

Romney has David M. Burris, the Sussex County Republican chair. Not exactly Mike Castle.