Posted: June 6, 2006


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

The Delaware Republican Party is running radio advertising against Joseph R. "Beau" Biden III, the Democratic candidate for attorney general, that looks to be backfiring by causing unrest among its own membership.

Even Terry A. Strine, the Republican state chair, seems uncomfortable about it.

The spot, which began running Monday throughout the state, is intended to hammer home the Republicans' repeated message that Biden, the senator's son, lacks the experience for the office.

An announcer notes there is no requirement for the state's attorney general to be a lawyer and asks listeners to "call your state senator or state representative" to support legislation that would establish a minimum qualification of five years as a member of the Delaware bar.

"This law makes a lot of sense," the announcer says. "But if the new law passes, Beau Biden wouldn't meet the legal requirements to serve. You see, Beau Biden hasn't been a Delaware lawyer for five years."

This is the truth, but not necessarily the whole truth, because Biden's legal experience goes back further than his admission to the Delaware bar four years ago in 2002.

Since his graduation from Syracuse law school in 1994, Biden has clerked for a federal judge, worked for the U.S. Justice Department -- including a stay in Kosovo -- served as a federal prosecutor in Philadelphia and practiced law in Wilmington. He is also a JAG officer in the Delaware National Guard.

Irritated Republicans are not objecting to the knock on Biden's level of experience, however. They think the best thing that Ferris W. Wharton, their candidate, has going is his contrasting background of a 26-year history as a prosecutor, including time as the chief deputy attorney general and assistant U.S. attorney.

Instead, there is a range of objections to the radio spot itself, such as: It leaves a mistaken impression that Biden's candidacy can be stopped with legislation, even though changing the requirements for the office would take a constitutional amendment that cannot be adopted before the election because it has to be approved by two sessions of the General Assembly. It pushes legislation that has not been thought out. It was not Republican money well-spent.

"Ferris Wharton is a great candidate, but help like this he doesn't need. Furthermore, Ferris is such a qualified candidate, he doesn't need to go negative in any way, shape or form. It could backfire big time," A. Judson Bennett, a Lewes Republican, wrote to his Coastal Conservative Network with its 3,800 e-mail addresses.

Bennett said he received about 100 e-mails unhappy about the advertising.

John S. Bonk, the Christiana-Mill Creek Republican chair, called the matter "kind of an internal squabble" that he was reluctant to discuss, but he acknowledged he had his doubts, too.

"Does five years make you a credible attorney general? That's an arbitrary number that someone picked out. I don't know. There's a lot of loose ends that need to be tied up," Bonk said.

It seems unclear exactly who authorized the spot. David A. Crossan, the Republican executive director, was involved in the initial discussions but was with his wife, who was having a baby, as matters proceeded.

Terry Strine, the state chair, said he was not hands-on for this one and would have preferred for the spot to be aired by an independent political organization and not the party operation, which has a broader responsibility than a single candidate.

"My goal is to help elect Republicans -- plural," Strine said.

No one at Republican headquarters would say what the spot cost, where it was airing and for how long. It is believed to be a $14,000 or $15,000 buy, lasting about 10 days, on WDEL, WILM, WDOV, WGMD and WJBR.

As for the Biden campaign, it probably thinks this briar patch that the Republicans are making about the candidates' experience looks a lot like home. When Biden's father was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1972, he was a first-term New Castle County councilman who constitutionally was not qualified to take his oath until he turned 30 on Nov. 20.

In addition, Joe Biden was running against the most experienced man in Delaware politics in U.S. Sen. J. Caleb Boggs, a Republican who had been a congressman and two-term governor and held the record at the time as the longest-serving statewide officeholder.

In a political campaign, the experience counts, but the vote counts more.