Posted: May 15, 2007


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

The Delaware Republicans are holding their convention in Dover this weekend, a year away from the one when the party will endorse someone for governor, and suddenly there has been a flurry of activity from state Sen. Charles L. Copeland, the Republican minority leader.

Copeland and his caucus sent Democratic Gov. Ruth Ann Minner a letter, asking the administration to cut state spending before raising taxes -- a classic Republican campaign position. Copeland also wrote to the convention delegates about what "being a Delaware Republican" means to him. He is hosting a reception at the convention, too.

They are all the sorts of things that an aspiring candidate for governor would do. Except Charlie Copeland is not running for governor. Charlie Copeland has bowed out.

"The only plans I have for 2008 are to run for re-election as state senator. Those are the only plans I have. I have no intention of changing them," said Copeland, who has represented a district along the state's northern arc, from Hockessin through Greenville and Centreville in Chateau Country to Brandywine Hundred, since 2002.

Copeland did give some serious thought to running for governor, a generation after his famous cousin Pierre S. "Pete" du Pont did it, serving two terms from 1977 to 1985. Copeland spoke at Republican dinners, and he got himself a seat at the legislative leadership table this year, as if preparing for a statewide run.

With his wife Bonnie in law school, two children ages nine and 12, and a printing business to run, Copeland decided it was not his time.

"I've wrestled with it for three years now. I look forward to running someday. Four years out we'll take a look at it, or eight years out," said Copeland, who is 44.

These are trying times for the Delaware Republican Party, pining to regain the governorship after a Democratic lock on the office since the 1992 election. While the Democrats have a credible candidate too many with both Lt. Gov. John C. Carney Jr. and Treasurer Jack A. Markell looking at it, the Republicans have the opposite situation.

It is a cinch the Republican establishment will not settle for Michael D. Protack, the airline pilot it regards as the junior birdman of politics with his biennial spasms in search of statewide office, governor, senator, whatever.

It is the reason that Republican eyes are likely to brighten this weekend when they see someone who has not been to a state convention in five or six years.

That would be Alan B. Levin, about a year removed from folding "Happy Harry's"  drugstores inside Walgreens. Levin long has had a political bent, including a stint as the chief aide to U.S. Sen. William V. Roth Jr. in the 1980s.

Levin has what the Republicans crave -- a well-known family name, even if it does not have the heritage that is attached to Copeland's, management experience and the capability to be his own best contributor.

Republicans have tossed around Levin's name for governor for years but got nowhere while he grew Happy Harry's, which went from 17 to 76 stores and from 250 to 2,600 employees since he took over in 1987 when his father-the-founder died.

It might be different now. "I'm exploring, but that's about it," Levin said. "Don't get the bunting out yet. We have miles to go."

From the sidelines, Copeland is leading the cheers. "If Alan throws his hat in the ring, he would be a formidable candidate and bring a lot of excitement to the party," he said.

If the bunting is not out yet, the Republicans at least are measuring for it.