Posted: May 17, 2009


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

The hangover from the last election was evident when the Delaware Republicans and Democrats held their state conventions over the weekend.

The state Republicans were trampled at the polls in 2008 like a batch of bad grapes and wanted no more of it.

The state Democrats cavorted through Election Day, installing everything from a vice president to the governor to a new majority in the state House of Representatives, but it was still not enough to cure the dry heaves left by the gubernatorial primary they never wanted.

Both parties staged their conventions with a determination never ever to go through those times again -- or at least not in 2010. Political remorse has staying power only until a new round of candidate ego takes over.

The Republicans met Friday and Saturday in Newark. The Democrats gathered Saturday in Dover.

Urgent for a comeback, the Republicans acted ready to bet the house, literally to bet the House. When Congressman Mike Castle arrived Friday, he saw great gobs of the 250 party members there outfitted with very official-looking political stickers in his traditional campaign colors of green and blue.

Castle for Senate, the stickers read.

As official looking as the stickers were, they were not official. "They weren't done under my authorization, believe me," Castle said.

The stickers were part of a hard sell from the party to get Castle to run. It was not much of a no-fingerprints job, nor was it intended to be. "The green stuff's off my hands," quipped Tom Ross, the Republican state chair.

With nearly three decades in statewide office as a lieutenant governor, governor and congressman, Castle is the last major figure the Republicans have. He is their best chance for winning the Senate seat that will open when Democrat Ted Kaufman steps away from the two-year appointment he accepted after Joe Biden was elected vice president.

Not only do the Delaware Republicans need Castle to rejuvenate them, so does the national party. With only 40 senators out of 100, the Republicans are on the cusp of meaninglessness there.

David Winston, a Republican pollster brought in to speak to the convention, made the case. "This is a tide turner. It's essential if we're going to turn momentum around and get people in the rest of the country to realize how to win elections," he said. "We have to win here."

The hype could not be underestimated if Castle is the candidate and the Delaware Democrats counter with the most famous name they have -- Biden, even if it is Beau, the attorney-general son.

It also figures Joe-the-father would not exactly be a disengaged bystander. In a Castle-Biden race, one way or the other, a giant gets humbled.

The Democrats went into their convention with low expectations. All they really wanted was to avoid any self-inflicted bloodletting that could give aid and comfort to the Republicans. It was not as easy as it sounds. They are Democrats, after all.

Although the Democrats did not quite turn themselves into Camp Fire Girls, they managed well enough.

Unlike the Republicans, who speedily re-elected Tom Ross as their state chair, the Democrats were set up for a leadership fight. Brian McGlinchey, an official with the Laborers International Union of North America, wanted to unseat John Daniello as the Democratic state chair.

The Democrats, however, were not ready to turn out a state chair whose personal style has become the party's own -- combative but effective. After straw polls were taken in the county and city caucuses, McGlinchey gave up and made the motion himself to re-nominate Daniello.

The caucuses were closed to the press, but word leaked out. With approximately 290 delegates participating, Daniello was ahead by about 50 votes. He put his lead together in New Castle County, his home base, and in Kent County, with Wilmington breaking for Daniello by a few votes and Sussex County breaking by a few for McGlinchey.

"I guess I have no right not to smile," Daniello said by way of an acceptance speech.

It was classic Daniello. The Great Sphinx of Egypt is hysterical by comparison.

The top Democratic officeholders made a show of neutrality, but their welcoming speeches amounted to a wink and a nod for Daniello and his record, which has the Democrats controlling all but two of the nine statewide offices -- everything but Castle's congressional seat and Tom Wagner's post as state auditor -- and both chambers of the General Assembly.

Gov. Jack Markell laid it out, remembering his first campaign for treasurer in 1998, when six statewide offices and the state House majority belonged to the Republicans.

"When I was a first-time candidate 11 years ago, our state's political landscape looked quite, quite different," Markell said. "Now if I'm Mike Castle or Tom Wagner, I think I'm looking around, and I might be more than a little nervous."

The leadership challenge was tangled in the primary for governor between Markell and John Carney last year, with the question still lingering whether the party under Daniello should have involved itself by endorsing Carney, instead of letting the rivalry play out.

The Democrats dearly would like to forget the primary ever happened. The way the state is trending these days, Republicans do not hurt Democrats, but Democrats do. The primary was a prime example.

With Markell setting the tone, the convention embraced Carney, the former lieutenant governor, and trumpeted his budding candidacy for the Congress.

No one has more of a visceral understanding of the damage a primary can do than Daniello. He was in the Democrats' worst -- a vicious conflict against Sam Shipley for the congressional nomination in 1970. Daniello won, but the primary left the party wasted and cost him whatever chance he had against the Republican candidate, a fellow named Pete du Pont.

The wounds from that primary festered and flared. Until today there are Democrats harboring resentments about the other side. This is not an exaggeration. It mattered Saturday in the selection of a new Democratic national committeeman.

House Speaker Bob Gilligan was unopposed, but he could have counted on Daniello to back him if needed. Gilligan was with Daniello all those years ago.