Posted: May 1, 2006


The Delaware Republicans were so focused on Ferris W. Wharton, their attorney general candidate against the Biden clan that is their mortal enemy, it barely registered on them that they had attracted a potential presidential candidate to their convention over the weekend in Dewey Beach.

New York Gov. George E. Pataki gave the keynote address Saturday. Not only did he deserve attention as someone in the broad field of 2008 White House prospects, but he is exactly what the state GOP is pining for -- a Republican who can win the governorship in a Democratic state.

Pataki is in his third term. The Republicans are four terms removed from sending a governor to Dover. They did notice that. "I would like to re-create him," quipped U.S. Rep. Michael N. Castle, who was the last Republican governor the state had.

Pataki was the second presidential possibility to travel here in a week and the third in two weeks.

U.S. Sen. Chuck Hagel, a Nebraska Republican, appeared at a private fund-raiser last Monday in Westover Hills for Castle, and the Rev. Alfred C. "Al" Sharpton, already a Democratic candidate in 2004, blitzed into Wilmington on April 18 for state Rep. Hazel D. Plant.

The state is likely to see plenty more Republicans -- there were murmurings at the convention that John McCain might come soon -- but Democrats like Sharpton are expected to be fairly scarce as long as U.S. Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. keeps his favorite-son candidacy alive.

The visitations from Pataki and the rest indicate that Delaware has found its niche in presidential politics in the cluster of states voting after the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary.

"People saw that Delaware is important -- to get a governor from one of the largest states to come to one of the smallest states," said Priscilla B. Rakestraw, the Republican national committeewoman.

Pataki gave one of those "Why I Am a Republican" speeches, a staple of politicians who are running for office but pretending they are not. (Beau Biden gave a bunch of "Why I Am a Democrat" speeches before he finally came out as the candidate for attorney general.)

"The reason we're Republicans is we are different from the Democrats. When I think of the Democrats, they are all experts in how other people should live their lives," Pataki said. "We are the party that believes in empowering people."

Pataki talked up his record of cutting government spending and taxes in New York. "We even eliminated the tax on beer. That was a very popular  tax cut," he said.

Of course, Pataki also talked about Sept. 11. He happened to be in New York City that day, and his daughter called him to tell him to turn on the television. The first plane had hit, and he told her it had to be an accident, and then the second plane came and he knew it was an attack.

The state trooper accompanying Pataki said he had to get back to his command center in Albany, the state capital. "It was the only time in 12 years as governor I told him, no, you're wrong," Pataki said, and he stayed with the city.

He is working on the project to rebuild the World Trade Center site with the Freedom Tower, designed at 1,776 feet to be even higher than the twin towers.

"In the face of terror, we're not going to cower in holes or build smaller. We're going to soar to new heights," Pataki said.

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One of the arcane arts practiced at a political convention is divining why people have been asked to give speeches.

A lot of it is obvious. For example, W. Laird Stabler Jr. was tapped to nominate prize recruit Ferris Wharton for the party's endorsement because Stabler, the Republican national committeeman emeritus, is so respected, it was practically like getting approval from on high.

Similarly, state Rep. Robert J. Valihura spoke on behalf of Jan C. Ting, who was endorsed for the U.S. Senate, because Valihura is a lawyer from Brandywine Hundred and Ting is a law professor from there, signaling that Ting has backing from his own profession and his home base.

Michael D. Protack, who keeps running for high office and keeps getting shunned, this time for the U.S. Senate against Ting, was clever enough to use the time reserved for him to bring in a fife-and-drum corps and have the musicians play the Marines' Hymn.

Protack was a Marine, but so was William Swain Lee, the ex-judge who ran for governor and chairs the Sussex County Republicans. Lee was nominating Ting, but Protack out-maneuvered him on this one.

"You may have seen me jump to attention very quickly. He made me stand up," Lee said.

There were turns at the lectern for the likes of Michael J. Ramone, showcased because the Republicans like his chances as a state Senate candidate in Pike Creek Valley, and for state Rep. Tina Fallon, the peppy 88-year-old Seaford legislator and retired teacher earning a last hurrah in her 14th and final term.

Castle asked Fallon to nominate him, and he asked Emily Taylor of the College Republicans to second his nomination. It is hard to say for sure, but perhaps he was sending a message as mysterious as the Da Vinci code.

With Fallon and Taylor, he had something old and something new, and his tie was something blue. If it is good luck for brides, why not for politicians, too?