Posted: June 24, 2005


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

Remember those "John Carney, Governor 2008" paste-on political buttons that sprouted on Return Day, two days after Lt. Gov. John C. Carney Jr. was re-elected last year?

Carney says he meant it. He made his intentions clear Monday to a roomful of fellow Democrats during a fund-raiser he held at the Porky Oliver Golf Club in Wilmington.

Return Day candidacies can be whimsical, as it has been all those times Terry R. Spence, the Republican speaker, has pretended he is running for governor, but a fund-raiser is for real. Politicians do not josh with the people who have written them checks for $125.

"I told them we've started to take the steps to run for governor in 2008," Carney said Friday during a telephone interview. "It was one of those things that hadn't been said."

Democrats who were there say Carney got himself an outburst of applause. "I kind of said it nonchalantly, and there was an eruption, which was kind of nice," Carney said.

Typically the Delaware Democrats would be thrilled to have someone like Carney ready to run for governor. He is a local boy made good, a 49-year-old ex-quarterback from St. Mark's High School and Dartmouth College, a former staff member for U.S. Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. and the finance secretary when U.S. Sen. Thomas R. Carper was the governor.

Typically, however, the state Democrats do not have somebody else who also would thrill them as their gubernatorial candidate, but they do. They have Jack A. Markell, the 44-year-old state treasurer, running for his third term in 2006, and the new chairman of the influential Metropolitan Wilmington Urban League.

Markell has not said explicitly that he is running for governor in 2008, but he certainly sent that message by bulking up his campaign treasury to $1 million, three-quarters of it coming from a personal loan he can afford. Before Markell got into politics, he was an executive at Nextel Communications and Comcast Corp., as the telecommunications industry was coming into its own.

That kind of money is what a candidate for governor, not treasurer, accumulates, and it got people's attention -- including Carney's. It is related to his early interest in fund raising for his future.

"Unlike some of the other candidates who have talked about running, I don't have independent financial resources," Carney said.

Philosophically there is not much separating Carney and Markell. Both of them are members of the centrist Democratic Leadership Council, a national organization, and both of them were prominent backers of U.S. Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman in the early goings of the 2004 campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination, which went to U.S. Sen. John F. Kerry.

Three years away from the next election for governor, neither Carney nor Markell is blinking. It has Democrats holding their breath, and Republicans, too, because a Democratic fissure could be the Republicans' best hope for the governorship they have not held since U.S. Rep. Michael N. Castle left Dover for the Congress in 1993.

"I try not to think about it much, because there's a lot of time between now and 2008, and we need to stay strong together as a party," Carney said. "Nobody wants to see that kind of a confrontation. Whether we're able to work that out, time will tell."