Posted: June 10, 2006


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

Just 45 minutes after state Democratic Chair John D. Daniello gaveled in a new set of rules on endorsements, the party gave its official backing to a cluster of statewide candidates during a convention Friday evening in Dover.

It would have taken much less time than that, but Daniello let the candidates give speeches before the vote, and U.S. Sen. Thomas R. Carper made use of senatorial courtesy to run about 10 times longer than the two minutes he was supposed to have.

This is politics, Daniello style, a show of momentum and muscle that sweeps everybody along or out of the way. He learned it from John F. Kennedy's 1960 presidential campaign, which taught him, "When you're in the driver's seat, drive."

This convention was driven. The new rules were presented by Elizabeth D. Maron, a lawyer who served as the secretary of the committee that drafted them, and that "D" in Betsy Maron's name stands for Daniello, because she is his daughter.

A peep of protest about the rules was strangled instantly with a call from Parliamentarian Eric M. Doroshow, a lawyer hand-picked by Daniello, that it was out of order.

"He may be grumpy, but he's ours, and we love him," quipped state Treasurer Jack A. Markell.

As expected, the Democrats' endorsements went to Carper for senator, Markell for treasurer, Dennis Spivack for congressman and Joseph R. "Beau" Biden III for attorney general.

Only Spivack's endorsement was contested. Karen M. Hartley-Nagle, who recently switched her registration from the Independent Party of Delaware to Democrat, served notice that she intends to file for the U.S. House of Representatives on both tickets and to primary Spivack, although legislation introduced earlier this week in Dover could prevent dual candidacies.

If there was a bump to the convention, it was the lack of a candidate for state auditor. Gary E. Hutt, a former Wilmington councilman, expressed interest in the post last month and was expected to be endorsed, but he came to the convention only long enough to tell Daniello he was not ready to run.

Wilmington Democratic Chair Theopalis K. Gregory said he does not think Hutt will do it.

The Democratic slate lines up against the ticket the Republicans endorsed at their state convention in April -- U.S. Rep. Michael N. Castle, state Auditor R. Thomas Wagner Jr., Jan C. Ting for senator and Ferris W. Wharton for attorney general.

Ting is facing a primary from Michael D. Protack, a perennial candidate. The Republicans do not have anyone yet to run for treasurer. While both parties wanted complete lineups by their conventions, there is still time. The filing deadline for candidates is seven weeks away.

The Democratic convention packed about 200 people into a room on the Wesley College campus on a warm evening, only eight days after a number of them sweated through Beau Biden's announcement for office some blocks away in the Schwartz Center with the air conditioning out.

They were hot and talking about it, but they also thought they have the Republicans on the run and were hot to win, and the rhetoric got as overheated as the room.

Spivack was so excited he blew his best applause line. "Join me as we storm the Castle and get rid of the Democrats -- Republicans! -- and raise the Democratic flag," he flubbed.

Markell mirrored the party's mood of lethal optimism and all-in-the-family pride. He called for a "clean sweep" -- upsetting Castle and Wagner to give the Democrats nine out of nine statewide offices -- and talked up his party's dynasty-in-the-making that the Republicans love to hate.

"We get to campaign for a Biden for attorney general this year and a Biden for president next year," Markell said.

Carper told the convention that the 2006 election could be a time when Democratic political miracles happen. He even turned the absence of a candidate for auditor into a good omen by recalling his own belated entry into politics, after the Democrats ended their 1976 convention without a candidate for treasurer.

It is one of the classic stories of Delaware politics that had the party meeting in Dover and Carper listening to the proceedings on a transistor radio in Dewey Beach.

"How many of you were there? I wasn't. I was at the beach. I wasn't at the convention, but my heart was," Carper said. "Finally somebody did [run], and you know what? He won."

Daniello had the last word, and he used it to warn his party not to let up. "I never end on a nice, sweet note, as everybody knows. Ladies and gentleman, we have the beginnings of a ticket," he said, still in the driver's seat -- and driving.