Posted: April 25, 2012


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

Another woman wanted to be the Republican national committeewoman, representing Delaware at the party's national level, when Priscilla Rakestraw first looked at the post in 1976.

The other woman was persuaded to stand aside with the promise she would be in line to be the next national committeewoman once Rakestraw moved on. She finally died in 2008, still waiting.

Rakestraw was too embarrassed to go to the funeral.

Nothing lasts forever, not even Rakestraw's record as the longest-tenured member currently on the Republican National Committee, although it has sometimes seemed as if she was as permanent as Abraham Lincoln on a penny.

Rakestraw is on her way out. She is in the midst of informing the party through individual telephone calls and a mass mailing that she will not run for a new four-year term Friday at the state convention in Rehoboth Beach.

For someone who has lived a life she wrote in exclamation points -- "I have worked on over 250 campaigns, and countless fund-raisers, strategy sessions, phone banks, parades, lit drops, volunteer programs and much more!" -- it is a strangely quiet conclusion.

Not that Rakestraw was necessarily ready to go -- even now! -- but she was prodded that way by a serious campaign to unseat her.

A four-man alliance, acting very much as though it wants to be a new generation of leadership for the state Republicans, decided to back Ellen Barrosse, a businesswoman probably best known politically as the founder of the pro-life A Rose and A Prayer.

The aspiring foursome is Charlie Copeland, once the state Senate's minority leader who is a du Pont family member, Greg Lavelle, the state House's minority leader, Colin Bonini, a state senator who ran for treasurer, and Michael Fleming, a past chair of the New Castle County Republicans.

"Priscilla has been a hard worker for the party over the years. I think it's a good thing to bring new people into the party," Lavelle said.

The party has seen better days. The Democrats control the governorship, the congressional delegation and the General Assembly. It is so bad that Alan Levin, the drugstore executive who was supposed to be the Republican candidate for governor in 2008, chucked it and went to work for Jack Markell, the Democratic governor.

The state party will be moving rightward with the change, aligning itself more with the conservative character of the national party. Rakestraw was one of the last of the moderates, along with Laird Stabler, the national committeeman who is a lawyer-lobbyist and du Pont family member.

There is actually some wariness that a stealth campaign could be in the works against Stabler, who is also up for a new term, now that Rakestraw is conveniently out of the way.

Rakestraw could have made it a lot harder for the party, if she had wanted to.

"It is comforting to be able to watch someone who has given so much to so many people prioritize our party and create a dignified result out of a troubling course of action. If we went to a vote, no matter what happened, it would divide the party," said Mike Ramone, a Republican state representative who is close to Rakestraw.

"Priscilla did the only thing she could do. She took the high road."

Rakestraw appears to have come to terms with the situation, although she is exiting without a word of endorsement for Barrosse but with an expression of regret that the next national committeewoman will not be Michele Rollins, a deep-pocketed contributor who lost the congressional primary in 2010.

"All good things eventually come to an end. That doesn't mean my love and service for the party will come to an end. I only wish I were handing off to Michele Rollins with her record of dedication to the party, but unfortunately that is not to be," Rakestraw said.

Rakestraw's departure brought a salute, practically unheard-of, from the Democratic Party.

"We've had disagreements, more disagreements than we've had agreements, but they were over what was best for the two-party system. I regret her leaving. I think she was an asset to her party, and they're going to miss her. She ought to be commended for her years of service," said John Daniello, the Democratic state chair.

Rakestraw has always had a way of throwing herself into the thick of people's lives at their time of deepest need, whether it is her work at the Delaware Breast Cancer Coalition, or whether it is a crucial political campaign -- "She says she's still willing to come and knock on doors in my district," said Harvey Kenton, a Republican state representative -- or even something silly to anybody else.

One of those otherwise ridiculous moments could be observed at the Republican national nominating convention in 2000 in Philadelphia, where Rakestraw had distributed three-corner hats to all of the delegates to get into the spirit of the city.

One of the delegates wandered into Rakestraw's hotel room, already overflowing with Delawareans needing favors, and despairingly held out her colonial-style hat in one hand and the cockade that had fallen off it in the other.

Rakestraw was at her finest. "Fire up the glue gun!" she cried.

No wonder Rakestraw is walking. Her deep, dark secret is that she needs to be needed. It would include needing to be needed by the Republican Party, so that was that.