Posted: May 28, 2008
By Celia Cohen
Nothing focuses the political mind in Delaware quite like the prospect of running against a du Pont.
A month ago there were four candidates angling to get themselves elected lieutenant governor. Three of them are out of it now. It would not be unreasonable to assume they were big-footed.
Their departure followed a decision by Charlie Copeland, the state Senate minority leader who is a member of the state's most famous family, that he ought to be the next lieutenant governor.
Copeland's emergence cleared out his fellow Republicans right away, and he went unchallenged for the party's endorsement in early May at the state convention. Michael Fleming, once an aide to the late Sen. Bill Roth, dived into a primary for Copeland's legislative seat, instead. Eric Buckson realized he had a couple of years left on the Kent County Levy Court to occupy him.
Copeland's candidacy also disabused the Democrats of a not-unreasonable expectation that whoever won the primary between Insurance Commissioner Matt Denn and Wilmington Council President Ted Blunt would be a handsome favorite for lieutenant governor.
After all, the Democrats have been doing so well here since the early 1990s that the state government appears to be undergoing a merger with the party, election by election.
Then Blunt pulled out, too. It cleared the way for a one-on-one confrontation between Copeland and Denn for the office, which is filled in Delaware by a race separate from the election for governor.
Blunt skulked away by dropping a press release after business hours on Friday, May 16, and departing for a cruise to Bermuda. He did not call Denn.
In the press release, Blunt cited the need for a united party as well as campaign cash as the prime reason for his exit. What he did not have, Charlie Copeland certainly did.
In a terse telephone interview Wednesday morning, Blunt steadfastly refused to elaborate about why he left the field. "It's all in the press release. I'm not answering any questions," he said. (His press release is available by clicking here.)
Even before Copeland got in, Blunt's candidacy was in serious trouble. Surviving the primary was problematic enough.
Denn, who had the experience Blunt did not of running and winning statewide, was out-raising and out-campaigning him. At the beginning of the election year, Denn had more than five times the money with $376,000 in his treasury to $71,000 for Blunt. Of the 15 or so local Democratic committees that so far have voted to endorse, Blunt won none of them, and it looked as though it was about to get worse.
Three days after Blunt dropped out, the Wilmington Democrats were deciding on their endorsements, and although Blunt was in line to claim one, he was not expected to walk away with the sort of lusty vote of confidence the city committee bestowed on Lt. Gov. John Carney, its other favorite son, in the gubernatorial primary with Treasurer Jack Markell.
While the Wilmington Democrats endorsed Carney 14-1 with two abstentions, Blunt's withdrawal prevented what would have been a show of cracks in his city support. It is always a bad sign when a politician cannot command his home base.
History was not on Blunt's side, either, not with the way the rest of the state regards Wilmington. A city official has not won a statewide office since Eugene Lammot, a Democratic mayor, was elected lieutenant governor in 1960 by beating an obscure Republican named Bill Roth.
Even Mayor Tom Maloney, an immeasurably talented politician, could not make the leap, despite trying it in 1976 as Jimmy Carter carried the state for his fellow Democrats. Maloney lost a Senate race to the same Bill Roth, who had 10 years in the Congress by then and was obscure no more.
Blunt also was trying to become the first African-American to hold statewide office, but there is good reason to believe it would not have been an issue, not after Barack Obama easily won the Democratic presidential primary here in February.
The irony is, the Democratic officialdom tried to arrange a statewide office for Blunt a year ago. With U.S. Sen. Tom Carper taking the lead, the party worked last May to broker a statewide ticket without the grudge matches of primaries.
The leadership wanted Carney for governor and Markell for lieutenant governor. Markell was willing to go along with it, but only if he did not land in a different primary for lieutenant governor. Denn agreed to get out of the way by running for re-election as insurance commissioner, but Blunt would not -- even though he was told he could wind up with a gubernatorial appointment to serve the last two years of Markell's term as treasurer.
When Blunt balked, the deal collapsed. Instead of a pathway to treasurer, Blunt had to settle for a cruise to Bermuda.