Posted: May 16, 2010


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

When the Delaware Republicans finished the balloting at their convention, the vote was: Establishment 2, Tea Party 0.

Let it be said that a tea party for this crowd still means bringing out the good china.

The Establishment re-established itself in the only two contested runoffs at the convention, which was held Saturday in Rehoboth Beach, by delivering endorsements for Mike Castle for senator and Michele Rollins for congresswoman.

That would be Castle, as in the nine-term congressman as well as past governor, lieutenant governor and state legislator. That would be Rollins, as in the Rollins Wing of the Beebe Medical Center, the Rollins Auditorium of the Schwartz Center for the Arts, and the Rollins Center Ballroom at Dover Downs.

Talk about Establishment.

It was so Establishment that Castle's name was presented to the convention by Pete du Pont, the ex-governor from the state's most famous family. It was so Establishment that du Pont noted proudly that his wife Elise and Castle are both fifth great-grandchildren of Benjamin Franklin.

Benjamin Franklin! It is impossible to go back any farther in the Establishment than that without calling for changing the national anthem to "God Save the Queen."

All around the country, Establishment candidates are running for their lives. Not here.

Castle quickly dispatched Christine O'Donnell, a perennial candidate stuck in an endless loop of Senate races, a one-person reality show long gone into reruns. Rollins surged past a double challenge from Glen Urquhart and Kevin Wade, all three of them running statewide for the first time.

Candidates must get at least 60 percent of the delegates' votes to win the endorsement. Castle was at 71 percent on the first ballot, outpolling O'Donnell 239-97. Rollins fell just 19 votes short, collecting 55 percent in the first round with the tally showing Rollins 186, Urquhart 83 and Wade 72, but it left her endorsement looking inevitable.

Rollins was in the lead in all seven voting districts -- Wilmington, Brandywine, Christiana-Mill Creek, Colonial, Newark, Kent and Sussex -- with the other two candidates unable to carry even their home base, Urquhart in Sussex and Wade in Colonial. It is never a good sign to lose at home.

With Wade forced to drop out after coming in third, Rollins rolled to 69 percent on the second ballot, beating Urquhart 231-106. She picked up 15 of the votes she needed in Colonial.

It made Rollins the first woman in Delaware to be a credible candidate for the Congress.

"I think she showed some real strength, winning in a strong first ballot and a strong second ballot. She has sort of a star quality," Castle said.

Not that these Republican rivalries are necessarily over. O'Donnell is expected to make Castle go through the motions of a primary for the Senate nomination. Urquhart is set on continuing to a primary, but Wade may get out of the way.

Still, anything anti-Establishment at the Republican convention was a big fizzle. The party leadership was concerned enough there could be a disturbance to give wristbands to all of the participants -- even Pete du Pont! -- to show they belonged, but nothing happened.

Even the rhetoric went nowhere. One of O'Donnell's supporters gave a speech ridiculing Castle as the Arlen Specter of Delaware politics, but it merely set off sounds of disapproval rippling throughout the delegates. O'Donnell was left grumbling sourly that Castle was a "King RINO" -- a moderate whose politics make him a Republican In Name Only.

The Republicans knew what they were doing and why they were doing it. Their purpose was expressed plainly by Bill Lee, the ex-judge who was their nominee for governor twice. (His family, by the way, has been in Delaware for 300 years, more good Establishment credentials.)

"I'm tired of losing," Lee said.

This is a state with an electorate that is 47 percent Democrat and 23 percent independent. The Republicans looked at the Tea Party tilt of O'Donnell and Urquhart to see candidates where Winning Is No Option. Better RINO than WINO.

The Republicans want to do more than stop a slide that has virtually handed the state to the Democrats. They dearly want the bragging rights they would get if they helped their party pull off a dream sweep proposed by Ed Gillespie, a former Republican national chairman who keynoted a dinner Friday before the convention.

Gillespie thrilled them by predicting the Republicans would knock off Harry Reid, the Senate's Democratic majority leader, in Nevada and win President Obama's old Senate seat in Illinois . . .

"And, oh yeh, Vice President Joe Biden's Senate seat is going to be held by a Republican."

Meanwhile, the Democrats await the Republicans with Chris Coons, the New Castle County executive, for senator and John Carney, the former lieutenant governor, for congressman.

The Democrats have their version of the Establishment, too.