Posted: April 7, 2010


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

The Republicans are getting the statewide ticket they wanted, as Michele Rollins filed the paperwork Wednesday to run for Delaware's lone congressional seat.

Rollins, one of the state's best-known business leaders, gives the Republicans a legitimate candidate to contend for the office against John Carney, the former Democratic lieutenant governor.

Rollins, however, means more to her party than that. For the first time in a decade, the Republicans are the ones assembling their dream ticket and the Democrats are not.

It is a sign the Republicans could be pulling out of a freefall in which they were denied the governorship for five consecutive races, got shut out of the two Senate seats and plunged to the minority in both houses of the General Assembly.

"Anytime you have a candidate with Michele's impressive resume, community standing and long history of helping Delawareans, obviously you're very enthused," said Tom Ross, the Republican state chair.

The Republicans have Mike Castle, the nine-term congressman and ex-governor, for the Senate and Rollins for the House of Representatives, although both could face primaries. They have Tom Wagner for re-election as auditor, and Colin Bonini, a 16-year state senator, for treasurer. They still lack a candidate for attorney general.

It gives the Republicans a statewide ticket embracing upstate and downstate, moderates and conservatives, not to mention a genuine opportunity for a woman to break up the all-male congressional delegation that has represented Delaware since the founding of the Republic.

The Democrats have an outsized edge in voter registration here, but this is a mid-term election, when the president's party typically suffers setbacks.

Politics is a great leveler. It is hard to think the state Democrats could have been riding any higher than they were with the 2008 election, when they installed a new governor, occupied seven of the nine statewide offices and swept to the majority in the legislature. Beyond all, they saw one of their own elected vice president.

There was reason to think the Democratic domination could continue. The party had its own dream ticket in mind. The plan was for Beau Biden to pivot from attorney general to the Senate race for his father's old seat, for Carney to be the candidate for the congressional seat, and for Carl Danberg to run for attorney general, a post he once held as an appointee.

It was as solid a top of the ticket as there could be, nagged only by unfolding primaries for auditor and treasurer. This was not good. The last Democratic primary of this sort gave the state Karen Weldin Stewart for insurance commissioner.

The Democratic prospects looked even better as the Republicans teetered on a political abyss with Castle considering retirement. It did not happen, though. Neither did the Democrats' dream ticket.

Beau Biden, newly home from Iraq and confronted with the monstrous case of a Sussex County pediatrician accused of sexually abusing his own patients, decided to stick with another race for attorney general. The Democrats quickly came up with Chris Coons, the New Castle County executive, for the Senate, but the ticket lacked the pizzazz it would have had.

"Mike Castle, Michele Rollins. Chris Coons, Carney. It sounds a little more competitive now," said "Stormin'" Norman Oliver, a Wilmington ex-councilman and past Democratic city chair, who hosts "Community Crossfire," a weekly television show.

John Daniello, the Democratic state chair, was less impressed.

"My responsibility is to fill the Democratic ticket, not worry about the Republican ticket. John Carney, our congressional candidate, is the best. I don't think there's any doubt he's got the background. He's been in government almost all his adult life. People will find that out and understand the difference between celebrity and experience," Daniello said.

Rollins spent the last month laying the groundwork for her candidacy, which she made official Wednesday morning in a blast e-mail to supporters.

Rollins criticized the Obama administration and Democratic Congress for pursuing health care legislation at the expense of focusing on economic recovery. "Without a decent job, there is no family security," she wrote.

As the election year began, Rollins intended to help the Republicans recruit candidates without giving any thought to becoming one herself. She grew concerned there was no one strong enough against Carney, and then the health care vote made her think it was not the time to stay sidelined.

"I thought I needed to be doing this," Rollins said in a brief interview.

Rollins runs Rollins Jamaica, a luxury vacation resort, and remains a major shareholder at Dover Downs, part of the sprawling business empire created by John Rollins Sr., her late husband who died 10 years ago. Their joint philanthropy has contributed to Beebe Medical Center in Lewes and the Schwartz Center for the Arts in Dover.

Rollins brings a presence that comes from being a former Miss USA with a law degree from Georgetown University.

If there is a drawback to a Castle-Rollins ticket, it would be that it is not built to last. Castle is 70. Rollins is 65. There are no heirs apparent.

The Democrats do not have that problem. Gov. Jack Markell is 49. Lt. Gov. Matt Denn is 44. Beau Biden is 41. Carney is 53. Coons is 46. Only Sen. Tom Carper is 63.

Now if the Republicans only had a candidate for attorney general . . .