Posted: May 30, 2006


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

Delaware Democrats seem to be settling on Gary E. Hutt, a former Wilmington councilman, to fill the final spot on their statewide ticket for the race against R. Thomas Wagner Jr., the Republican state auditor.

Hutt's candidacy would represent a downgrade of Democratic expectations for fielding a top-tier challenger in what appears to be a Democratic year for a serious run at Wagner, who typically has been lightly financed in a political career dating back to the 1980s.

Instead, Hutt comes with the more modest possibility of perhaps buttressing the vote in Wilmington, a Democratic stronghold where the turnout is often problematic in non-presidential years.

Hutt's candidacy is far enough along that he is making the rounds of party meetings and already secured the endorsement of the Kent County Democrats earlier this month.

"He looks like a fine candidate to me. His job now is to meet with the districts and the subdivisions, and that would complete a pretty good ticket," said John D. Daniello, the Democratic state chair.

That ticket also would include U.S. Sen. Thomas R. Carper, state Treasurer Jack A. Markell, Joseph R. "Beau" Biden III for attorney general and Dennis Spivack for U.S. representative, although Spivack may have to brush away a primary challenge from Karen Hartley-Nagle, who also is running on the minor Independent Party ballot.

It would give the Democrats an array of five statewide candidates with such varying degrees of political strength that it would form more of a checkerboard than a slate. While Carper and Markell are proven winners and Biden is instantly recognizable as the senator's son, Spivack and Hutt have the look of hail-Mary candidates going against the Republicans' best.

Spivack is making his first run for office against U.S. Rep. Michael N. Castle, a former governor who has held statewide office since 1980, and Hutt would be bringing a spotty political record to a campaign against Wagner, the auditor since 1989.

Hutt ousted an incumbent in a Democratic primary in 1988 to win a city council seat, but he went out in 1992 the same way he went in. More recently, he placed fourth in 2002 in a five-way primary won by state Rep. Hazel D. Plant. Hutt has been working as the city's director of risk management, dealing with insurance matters, but he is expected to be leaving that post.

Hutt did not return telephone calls for comment, although he acknowledged in a brief interview last week that he was interested in running for auditor.

With the filing deadline still about two months away, the Democrats appear set with their statewide ticket before the Republicans are. The Republicans have endorsed candidates for four of their slots -- Castle, Wagner, Jan C. Ting for the U.S. Senate and Ferris W. Wharton for attorney general -- but lack a candidate for treasurer.

State Republican Chair Terry A. Strine said the party still is some time away from inking in anyone against Markell.

With the deadline approaching and political reality setting in, the Democrats seem content simply to find candidates against Castle and Wagner. "You have to give them credit," said Abby L. Betts, the Kent County Democratic chair. "They're standing up to some pretty tough people."