Posted: May 28, 2010


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

Colin Bonini is not a big-time political figure, but he played one in his campaign for state treasurer.

Two Republican ex-governors -- Christie Todd Whitman from New Jersey and Jim Gilmore from Virginia -- came in Wednesday to talk up Bonini's candidacy during four events across Delaware from Milford to Greenville.

Even Bonini seemed surprised it could happen. Showcase politicians generally put in appearances only for higher offices, like John McCain for Mike Castle's congressional candidacy in 2006. Or of course Joe Biden for himself.

The treasurer is essentially the state's bookkeeper. There are PTA presidents with more panache.

Bonini said as much. He did it as he invited his top-dollar contributors to pose for photos with the governors at a reception at the University & Whist Club in Wilmington.

"We're just lining up, anyone who would like a picture with the governors -- and unfortunately with me. With Photoshop, you can get rid of me," Bonini quipped.

Bonini, a 16-year state senator from Dover, coaxed the governors here as only he can. Bonini has the enthusiasm of an overgrown toddler who can take delight in discovering bottle caps. He employed one part nerve and one part networking.

Bonini simply called up Whitman to invite her. He landed Gilmore with an assist from John Sigler, a fellow Dover Republican who is a past president of the National Rifle Association, where Gilmore is a board member.

Gilmore, whose conservative politics play well downstate, was the draw at Shawnee Country Club in Milford. Whitman, a fit for the moderate politics upstate, was the attraction for a women-only event at the Greenville Country Club. Both governors also attended gatherings at the University & Whist Club and Porky Oliver Golf Club in Wilmington. Upwards of 200 people came out.

The willingness of the governors to campaign here fed the rising expectations of the Delaware Republicans, who believe the 2010 election can mark their recovery from a dismal decade of losses that left them with only two of the nine statewide officeholders.

The Republicans are as confident as they can be that Castle is a winner for senator over Chris Coons, the Democratic executive in New Castle County, and they like the chances of Michele Rollins, one of the state's most prominent business executives, for the congressional seat against John Carney, the former lieutenant governor.

As for Bonini, he has shown unexpected promise in a down-ballot race that typically would be driven by party preference. The Democrats should have the advantage in an electorate that has 100,000 more Democrats than Republicans, but there is a complication.

Bonini gets double governors. The Democrats get double trouble.

The Democrats have two candidates who want to be treasurer. It ties them up on their side until a primary Sept. 14 settles the contest between Velda Jones-Potter, the appointee Jack Markell named to replace himself when he became governor, and Chip Flowers, a lawyer from Middletown.

The Republicans want to win so much that Bonini looks to be pulling support within the party from moderates as well as his fellow conservatives, as his day with the governors showed.

Bonini is similarly a favorite for Liane Sorenson, a moderate who is the state Senate's minority whip, as for Charlie Copeland, a conservative who was the state Senate's minority leader until running for lieutenant governor in 2008.

It helps that Republicans everywhere have few differences on the politics of money. A race for treasurer could not bind them together any better if it were duct tape.

Bonini keeps his point simple whenever and wherever he speaks, telling his crowds, "Please repeat after me. It's our money" -- It's our money, people say -- Thank you very much. If I am lucky enough to be elected your state treasurer, I will never ever forget that."

He made sense to the governors.

Here was Whitman. "The issue that's at the top of everybody's mind, it's spending, it's taxes, it's the budget. You have a person in Colin who understands that," she said.

An amen came from Gilmore. "Colin Bonini is exactly the right guy. We're going to get Democrats to vote for this candidate for state treasurer. Democrats care just as much about their children and grandchildren as we do," he said.

Bonini is taking his message personally. He is a big guy who has shed 42 pounds on a diet coinciding with his campaign.

No bloated government. No bloated Bonini.