Posted: May 13, 2010


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

The Republican state convention this weekend is all about whether a congressional candidate, presumably Michele Rollins, has the organizational muscle to lock up the party's endorsement in the first round of voting.

Otherwise, the happiest politician in Delaware is going to be John Carney, the former lieutenant governor who is the Democrats' congressional candidate.

It would mean the Republicans are having about as much luck capping their woes as British Petroleum is in the gulf.

The Republicans would like to think they are on the cusp of a comeback after a decade of decline that let the Democrats gobble up seven of the nine statewide offices, including the governorship and both Senate seats.

It is a mark of progress for the Republicans simply to be able to talk about electing a senator, keeping the congressional seat and swiping the treasurer's office without crossing their fingers.

Even in Delaware, the 2010 election looks promising for the Republicans. This is some switch.

As late as last fall, when there was still the possibility that Mike Castle might retire from the congressional seat and not run for the Senate, the Republican statewide ticket for the Senate, House of Representatives, attorney general, treasurer and auditor was looking like Auditor Tom Wagner and Eeny, Meeny, Miny and Moe.

The state convention, scheduled for Friday and Saturday in Rehoboth Beach, is an opportunity for the Republicans to show there is life yet in Delaware's two-party system.

They are fine with Castle for senator, Wagner for re-election and Colin Bonini for treasurer. Sooner or later they can be expected to find someone for attorney general, although now is not the time.

Even Dennis Spivack, the Democrats' overwrought congressional candidate in 2006, knocked off the politicking when Castle had a stroke.

What the Republicans need the most is a boss candidate for the congressional seat.

The party hierarchy was delighted when Rollins, one of the state's most prominent business executives, came forward. The convention is her moment to prove herself, if she can big-foot her way to the endorsement through a candidate field that also includes Glen Urquhart, Kevin Wade and Rose Izzo.

Urquhart has been Rollins' loudest opponent, putting up a half-million dollars of his own money and airing political spots. Wade is a party soldier, and Izzo is essentially an afterthought whose last campaign finance report showed her spending $7.24 on her candidacy.

Izzo's campaign would be living large just paying the tolls to drive to the convention.

The party's endorsement goes to the candidate who wins 60 percent of the delegates' vote, and the strongest statement a candidate can make is to get there on the first ballot. The party rules allow for multiple ballots.

Rollins' name will be placed before the convention by Bill Lee, the ex-judge who was the Republicans' nominee for governor twice. It sends a message, considering that Vance Phillips, the Sussex County Council president who is Urquhart's campaign manager, was Lee's campaign manager in 2008.

Rollins' most potent weapon could be the backing she has among the Republican state legislators, who have shown in the past they can sway a convention.

"As much as she's done for the party over the years, and not just that, but for the state. You can't find anyone more qualified," said Liane Sorenson, the state Senate's Republican minority whip.

Urquhart's campaign has pecked away at Rollins by asserting she has not been enough of a Republican stalwart. "We certainly think she's capable of winning a convention -- the Democrat convention," said Paul Erhardt, a spokesman for Urquhart.

As coveted as the endorsement is, it has its limits. Endorsements do not create nominees, primaries do. Just look at Jack Markell, who got to be the governor after the Democratic endorsement went to Carney.

Still, the Republican candidate could use the momentum. Not since 1976 has Delaware elected anyone to its three premier offices -- governor, senator, representative -- unless they had previously run and won statewide.

That would be Carney. Not that the Republicans necessarily should be discouraged. In a year when voters around the country are ferociously taking incumbents and making them outcumbents, it is a good time to try.