Posted: April 11, 2016
By Celia Cohen
This campaign season in Delaware has been so wild, even the weather went haywire.
Who would have thought there was any chance the Sussex County Democratic spring dinner could be canceled because of snow?
Never mind. Neither snow nor rain nor chill nor gloom of night could keep about 200 people from turning out for the event Saturday evening in Bridgeville at the Heritage Shores country club, where it was damp and blustery outside and pouring statewide primary candidates inside.
Politics itself might as well have been another force of nature.
It was changing so unpredictably, the program booklet carried an ad for "Bryon Short, Democrat for Congress," with a picture of Short in the driver's seat of a car, even though Short had just U-turned out of the race and filed for re-election in his state representative district.
Not that the three Democratic candidates who had already filed for Short's legislative seat in Brandywine Hundred were necessarily moving to get out of his way.
Short skipped the Sussex dinner and the long ride downstate to get to it, although his absence hardly changed the atmospherics, not with so many candidates still going for the congressional seat, as well as governor, lieutenant governor and insurance commissioner in the 2016 election.
"Thanks to the 30 or 40 people running for statewide office for buying all those tickets," quipped Mitch Crane, the Sussex County Democratic chair, as he welcomed everyone.
Crane's count did not come across as much of an exaggeration. More like a rounding error.
After all, the Democrats, do have a horde of statewide candidates, namely, one for governor (John Carney), four for the congressional seat (Sean Barney, Lisa Blunt Rochester, Bryan Townsend and, oh, Mike Miller, the serial candidate), six for lieutenant governor (Sherry Dorsey Walker, Brad Eaby, Greg Fuller, Bethany Hall-Long, Kathy McGuiness and Ciro Poppiti) and three for insurance commissioner (Karen Weldin Stewart, the current one, Trini Navarro and Paul Gallagher.) All but Poppiti and Gallagher made it to the dinner.
All those candidates were actually the side show, a wanna-be pack outshined by the in crowd.
Jack Markell, now in his final months as the two-term Democratic governor, was there, as was the all-Democratic federal delegation of Tom Carper and Chris Coons, the senators, and John Carney, the congressman performing double-duty as the gubernatorial candidate.
The governor and the delegation, all in the same place at the same time. In other words, pure Delaware. This is the way it goes in a small state.
Markell and the three members of the congressional contingent were the only ones invited to speak. This was blessedly a nod at the clock, if not the calendar. Who knows how long it would have taken if the candidates had their say, too?
The night mostly belonged to Carney. Not much of a surprise there, not since he is looking like the next governor and could stand apart from the rest of the candidate chaos.
Markell got the first word of the evening. He could not say enough about Carney. This, after their titanic but mannerly 2008 primary, which propelled Markell to the governorship and sidelined Carney until his comeback for congressman two years later.
"Congressman Carney, you are going to be an awesome governor," Markell said and then told the crowd, "The best thing you can do for me as a going-away present is support him."
Carney got the last word. He used it to do what only he had the legitimacy to do. He read the Riot Act to all those statewide candidates about how they were going to have to suck it up for the good of the party once the primary havoc on Sept. 13 is over.
"Take it from me. The folks who don't win? It's hard. It's really, really hard. Guess what? You have to do it," Carney said.
Then a little joke. "When Governor Markell and I ran against each other in that primary, there were people across this room on different sides. I'm not going to ask for a show of hands. It's over! It's over!" he said to laughter.
"We never went after each other in a negative way. There were people on both sides who wanted us to. Hear me? Hear me? I don't want to see it. Because on Day Two, we're going to have to pull together as the same, as Democrats."
Maybe what Carney read everyone, after all, was not the Riot Act, but the Quiet Act.