Posted: May 26, 2010


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

The Delaware Democrats are having one of those Will Rogers moments, when it is hard to tell they are an organized political party.

It is about endorsements.

Some Democrats want the party to endorse candidates for statewide office. Some Democrats do not. Some Democrats cannot make up their minds.

"There's always that possibility not to endorse. They're waiting for something to click so they can say, that's the right person for the job," said Abby Betts, the Kent County Democratic chair.

The Delaware Republicans already settled on endorsements for their statewide candidates earlier this month. It was very orderly. It was like a country club requiring tennis whites and everyone thinks it is a good idea. Jackets and ties in the dining room, too.

The Republicans called a convention. They elected delegates. They went to Rehoboth Beach for two days. They had an evening reception hosted by Mike Castle, the runaway favorite for senator. They had a breakfast sponsored by Michele Rollins, chugging toward the endorsement for congresswoman. They had speeches, they voted, they went home.

They came away with an endorsed ticket of Castle, Rollins, Tom Wagner for re-election as auditor, and Colin Bonini for treasurer. The only glitch is still needing a player to be named later for attorney general.

The Democrats are struggling with their endorsements for the second election in a row. The last time they had too many good candidates. This time, not enough.

In 2008 they were reluctant to choose between Jack Markell and John Carney for governor. Both were proven officeholders, Markell as treasurer and Carney as lieutenant governor. The party was so split that Carney, the organization man, got the endorsement, but Markell, the outsider in an election year made for it, won the primary and surged to the governorship.

In 2010 the Democrats are set at the top of their ticket. They have Chris Coons for senator, Carney for congressman and Beau Biden for attorney general. The challenge is choosing from a muddle of candidates for the lesser offices -- Velda Jones-Potter and Chip Flowers for treasurer and Richard Korn and Ken Matlusky for auditor.

Why bother? The Democrats have plenty of other concerns.

They do not want to lose the Senate seat that belonged to Joe Biden. They have their best shot at taking the congressional seat since Castle was elected to it in 1992. They really and truly want to keep control of the state House of Representatives, where they elected a majority in 2008 after 24 years in the minority.

Still, endorsements are what parties do. John Daniello, the state chair, has drummed into the rank-and-file that the party's mission is to "recruit, select and elect" -- and endorsements are the "select" part.

They are trying. The Democratic committees in the 41 state representative districts are in the process of hearing from the candidates and then voting either to endorse someone or not to bother. As of now, for example, there are seven districts that have endorsed Jones-Potter, the appointee who replaced Markell as treasurer, and three districts for Flowers.

Once the local committees have their say, the three counties and Wilmington will weigh in, leading to a decision by the state executive committee. It should all wrap up in a month or so. Primary Day is Tuesday, Sept. 14.

"We're coming along. So far it's been pretty friendly. I'm kind of proud of the people at the district level who are taking the time to go to the meetings and make a decision," Daniello said.

After all the angst over Markell-Carney, it would not be surprising if party members were gun shy about endorsements, but it is not necessarily so. Particularly upstate, there appears to be a growing appreciation for having a voice in party decision-making.

"We've got what we view as our responsibility, and let the chips fall where they may. There doesn't seem to be a political hangover from the process that John Carney and Jack Markell went through. Our job is to make the judgment call," said Mark Murowany, the Wilmington Democratic chair.

A party can damage its credibility if its endorsement goes one way and the primary goes the other, as it did with Markell and Carney, but people do not seem worried about it, or at least not yet.

"If it would happen over and over again, yeh. Then OK, the structure must be broken," said Erik Schramm, the New Castle County Democratic chair.

Whatever happens this time, it will be hard to draw conclusions. Markell and Carney were one thing, but this?

It is like the tree on the deserted island. If the endorsement for, say, auditor falls down, did it even make a sound?