Posted: April 28, 2009


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

John Carney's first try for Capitol Hill was abbreviated -- literally abbreviated -- and did not work.

Send-J.C.-to-D.C. was the message his friends wore on their political stickers, demanding he be named to the Senate seat shed by Joe Biden on the way to vice president.

It was over quickly. Within three weeks of the 2008 election, Gov. Ruth Ann Minner handed off the senatorial appointment, not to her own lieutenant governor, but to Ted Kaufman, a treasured member of Biden's inner circle as a political adviser and ex-chief of staff.

Minner had her legacy. She was no Rod Blagojevich.

She may be considered a middling governor, but she left office rewarded with a terrific seat at the presidential inauguration and a nice speech from Biden himself at a dinner raising money to build the Minner wing at the public library in Milford, her hometown.

Senate appointments in Delaware obviously go for a lot less than they do in Illinois, but the absence of an indictment? Priceless.

Carney was out in the cold, jilted again by fellow Democrats. First he lost the party primary for governor to Jack Markell, and now this. 

If Carney was going to get to Washington, he was going to have to do it by way of the political version of an old punch line. How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice. How do you get to Capitol Hill? You run.

Carney is. Earlier this month he said he planned to be a candidate for the state's sole congressional seat, monopolized for nine terms now by Republican Mike Castle. It sure must beat living with the memories.

"It's not really helpful to look back," Carney said. "It's been a very difficult time for me. You spend eight years of your life [as lieutenant governor] preparing for something that doesn't happen. I'm very excited about the current run."

Carney is the first to enter an unusually fluid election season. It is likely that not one incumbent officeholder will be on the 2010 ballot for the top-of-the-ticket races -- senator, representative and attorney general.

Kaufman has ruled out running for the Senate. Castle has said he is more inclined to run for the Senate or retire than seek re-election. Beau Biden, the Democratic attorney general, has the means, motive and opportunity to pursue a senatorial dynasty.

Whatever happens, Carney insists he has settled on his race. "This is firm. I'm going to run for this office. I'm committed to it," he said.

Without Castle, the Republicans lack an obvious candidate for the House of Representatives. It could be Charlie Copeland, who left the state Senate last year in an unsuccessful race for lieutenant governor, but he is being mentioned mostly as a possibility for treasurer, if he runs.

"Too soon to tell," Copeland said.

Carney is making the rounds. He always was the favorite of the Democratic insiders -- he owned the party endorsement in the primary, not Markell -- and they are sticking with him. He has had his courtesy calls with Tom Carper, the Democratic senior senator, and Kaufman.

He even went to see Castle. "It was the right thing to do," Carney said. It was, but only in Delaware.

Markell is on his side, too. "It offers us an opportunity to come together," Carney said.

What a concept. Carney's opposition this time actually could be Republican.