Posted: May 18, 2012


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

The first thing politics does to a self-invited newcomer, like this Democrat named Keith Spanarelli, is make a sucker out of him.

Spanarelli has decided he would like to run for the U.S. Senate, even though the seat up for election this year is already conspicuously occupied by another Democrat with some serious squatting rights. That would be Tom Carper.

It goes without saying that running within the Democratic Party in a primary against Carper, a 12-time winning machine here in Delaware as a senator, governor, congressman and treasurer, is like taking on someone who looms like Goliath but fights like David.

Spanarelli can run if he wants to. It is a free country. It is not, however, a free candidacy.

The filing fee for the Senate race is $10,440 -- calculated at 1 percent of a senator's $174,000-a-year salary aggregated over the six-year term. In other words, winning a senatorial election feels exactly like winning a million bucks.

Spanarelli paid his filing fee Wednesday. The check is collected by state election officials, but it is made payable to the Democratic Party, and guess what the party does with the money?

The party puts it toward beating the brains out of anyone running in a primary against its endorsed candidates. The Democrats have not officially endorsed yet, but it does not take a Divination class at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft & Wizardry to foresee the endorsement going to Carper.

Welcome to politics, Keith Spanarelli. These are the house rules.

Not only is Carper already flush with $2 million in his own campaign account, he also can get the benefit of Democratic house money, provided in part by that fat filing fee, courtesy of Spanarelli.

Another little bonus for Carper is he gets a free opportunity to have a staffer say wonderful things about him in response to the mandatory journalistic inquiry about the primary.

"Sen. Carper's top priorities remain serving the people of Delaware, helping to bring good-paying jobs to our state and ensuring middle-class families get a fair shake in the economy. While he carries out his official duties and serves as a relentless advocate in Congress for Delaware families, Sen. Carper is putting a team in place to run a vigorous and successful re-election campaign," said Emily Spain, his communications director.

Carper has not had a primary for 20 years. He ran in one for governor in 1992 and one for congressman in 1990, the only primaries he ever had, both of them brought by Danny Rappa, a plumbing contractor who could not stand him.

Back then, Carper was trying to clean up the party by going after Rappa's political friends, some of whom had followed up their terms from the voters with terms from a judge. Rappa himself had enough run-ins with the law to have a record that came to be known as "Danny's Rappa Sheet."

Carper beat Rappa both times by 90 percent, give or take a handful of votes, leading Rappa to snarl, "I've lived through Stalinism, Nazism, and I'm certain I'll live through Carperism."

At least while Spanarelli begins his campaign by putting himself $10,000 behind, he is not costing the taxpayers anything extra. A statewide primary was estimated by Elaine Manlove, the state elections commissioner, to cost about $1 million, but there are already other statewide contests underway for Primary Day on Sept. 11.

The Democrats have multiple candidates for insurance commissioner, and the Republicans have them for representative and insurance commissioner -- but not for senator. The sole Republican candidate there is Kevin Wade, who now finds himself awaiting the winner of the Democratic senatorial nomination, but probably not too breathlessly.

Spanarelli has come out of nowhere for no apparent reason. Voter records show he is a 40-year-old Smyrna resident. He is unknown in party circles. He did not return telephone and e-mail messages left for him Thursday and Friday. He is on Twitter but has not tweeted.

Spanarelli set up a Web site, but at this point it does not offer any biographical information or a rationale for his candidacy, like if he has a gripe with Carper or burns to get rid of career officeholders or wants to have a say about the national debt, gay marriage, petting zoos, whatever.

What the Web site does have is a way for other people to contribute to him, now that he has started his campaign by contributing $10,000 against himself.