Posted: May 6, 2010


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

The Delaware Republicans unfurled three new candidacies for the state House of Representatives on the same day, a sign they are really serious about trying to take back the majority.

They did it on Cinco de Mayo, the holiday celebrating a surprising victory by the Mexican army fighting against French invaders on May 5, 1862.

Interesting timing. It would be surprising if the Republicans were to rout the Democrats, but politics is war by other means, and surprises happen. The model here is Cinco de Mayo, not Don Quixote.

"We fully expect to take it back," said Tom Ross, the Republican state chair.

The Republicans need the House. The 2008 election left them about as relevant in Legislative Hall in Dover as the Whigs.

The Republicans were denied any power base as the Democrats installed Jack Markell as governor and Matt Denn as lieutenant governor and upended the House. It goes without saying the Democrats kept the Senate, which they have controlled for decades, although it is not true the last Republican majority was so long ago, the bills were being signed into law by William Penn.

The Republicans fell into the Legislative Hall basement, where the offices of the House minority are located, after a 24-year rule, and if they do not get out of there in 2010, it could be a long stay.

The next General Assembly will be responsible for redistricting -- the readjustment of the legislative district lines every 10 years after the census -- and it gives the majority essentially a free hand at shoring up its own members.

The House has 24 Democrats and 17 Republicans. Although it appears the Republicans must pick up four seats, it is generally conceded they need five. There are three Republicans retiring, and one of them is Bill Oberle, whose district south of Newark has such a lopsidedly Democratic registration, it is about as hospitable to Republicans as the Kennedy compound in Hyannisport.

The Republicans have the national mood of voter discontent on their side, as well as the political history that shows the president's party typically losing legislative seats here in mid-term elections.

The Republicans, however, have registration seriously against them. Of the 41 House districts, only three have more Republican than Democratic voters, and all three of them currently have Republican representatives -- Nick Manolakos in Hockessin, Joe Miro in Pike Creek Valley and Gerald Hocker in the southeastern corner of Sussex County.

"If we maintain the seats we have, we keep the majority, and we're trying to pick up a couple of open seats," said Pete Schwartzkopf, the House Democratic majority leader.

The Republicans are plotting their comeback based on where they have won before, as the Cinco de Mayo candidacies show.

The day gave them Rick Carroll, a lawyer running in a Wilmington district that was safely Republican until Gerald Brady flipped it to the Democrats by winning an open race in 2006. Also Beth Miller, a lawyer looking to take back a Kent County district from Brad Bennett, a first-term Democrat. Also Chris Weeks, an engineer challenging Schwartzkopf in Sussex County, the only one of the state's three counties to go for John McCain.

Miller is actually registered independent, but she is free to run as a Republican, based on a 1994 ruling from the Superior Court concluding, "Nothing in the state election code requires a particular party registration for candidacy."

The Republicans also are targeting two Brandywine Hundred districts that once were reliably in their column, until Bryon Short picked off one for the Democrats in a special election in 2007 and Dennis Edward Williams got the other in 2008.

Ditto in Kent County, where the Republicans are taking aim not only at Bennett but Daryl Scott, another first-term Democrat, and Bob Walls, a second-term Democrat.

There are serious contests here, although it may not be enough for the Republicans to climb out of the Legislative Hall basement. Even Cinco de Mayo candidates do not necessarily translate into cinco seats.