Posted: June 19, 2006
CANDIDATES GET TO KNOW THEIR REPUBLICAN PALS AT THE LEWES CANAL
By Celia Cohen
The room was about the size of a classroom or perhaps a small courtroom, and it was full of people who wanted to be friendly. No wonder Jan C. Ting and Ferris W. Wharton seemed to be in their element.
Ting and Wharton are going where they have never gone before -- Ting from law professor to Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate and Wharton from prosecutor to Republican candidate for attorney general.
For new candidates, summer is a time of transition to introduce themselves to their own party members, stockpile a war chest and audition a stump speech for the fall campaign and the intensity ahead.
It is a different role even for people like Ting and Wharton, who are accustomed to being in the public eye. They could not have asked for a more forgiving atmosphere than they had in the warmth of a Saturday evening at a laid-back Republican gathering in Lewes.
The setting was an event sponsored by the Delaware Federation of College Republicans at the Inn at Canal Square. With the $35 admission modest enough to raise a little money but no eyebrows, the College Republicans drew about 50 people, including state Chair Terry A. Strine, Vice Chair Phyllis M. Byrne and Sussex County Republican Chair William Swain Lee.
There is little that could make a professor more comfortable than college students, and there is no issue that Ting cares more about than illegal immigration, and both came together as he hobnobbed with Sheldon Hudson, a College Republican alumnus, and Kristan Patterson, his fiancee. Hudson lives is Milford, but Ting's eyes lit up when Patterson said she was from Canada.
"Did you sneak in?" he asked. She had not. She was here legally.
In brief remarks, Ting focused on his underdog campaign against U.S. Sen. Thomas R. Carper, the Democrat who has won more statewide races than anyone in Delaware history, and ignored his nuisance primary with Michael D. Protack, a perennial candidate whom Ting crushed to win the party's endorsement at a state convention in April.
"We know we have an uphill challenge. I got into the race because I'm concerned about things in Washington being broken. The right people aren't there to fix it," Ting said.
One of those "broken things" motivating Ting is ethics. He criticized Carper for taking campaign contributions from Indian tribes associated with Jack Abramoff, the scandal-scarred lobbyist. Carper acknowledged he received about $7,000 in legal contributions from two tribes as well as two of Abramoff's colleagues but gave the money to charity after the scandal broke.
"His reaction was, gosh, it's legal, and my reaction is, gosh, it shouldn't be," Ting quipped.
Wharton turned the campaign setting into a courtroom of public opinion. The ex-prosecutor (the "ex" stands for "experienced") is not so much running against Democrat Joseph R. "Beau" Biden III as trying to convict him as a pretender with little going for him beyond his father-the-senator's name.
Wharton scoffed dryly at the conventional political wisdom that says opponents should be treated as He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. "Anyone familiar with Harry Potter?" Wharton said.
Naturally Wharton came prepared to make his case, bringing along Exhibit A. It was a short campaign video that dwells on his best-known murder trial as one of the prosecutors against Thomas J. Capano and dismisses Biden with the line, "Ambition is not a substitute for accomplishment."
Wharton followed up the video by knocking Biden's campaign literature, which says, "As a federal prosecutor, Beau Biden took some bad characters off the streets. No one was tougher."
Wharton gibed, "I know federal prosecutors from Philadelphia. There were tougher. His reputation was not the tough prosecutor but the amiable prosecutor."
Then Wharton gave an impression of how to be both a tough but amiable prosecutor himself. He told a story about a conversation he said he had recently at the Greek Festival in Wilmington with one of Biden's campaign workers who did not know who he was and offered him a Biden sticker. It went something like this:
"What do you think about the other guy?" Wharton asked.
"I think he's pretty good," the campaign worker said.
"Those people you're giving stickers to, what do they think?" Wharton asked.
"They're for the other guy," the campaign worker said.
"I'm the other guy!" Wharton said.
The story was a hit. With his listeners softened up, Wharton made a pitch for campaign contributions, noting he went into the race at a disadvantage for voter registration, name recognition and money.
Not in gumption, though. "I'm having fun," Wharton said. "It's been real positive out there, even from the Biden campaign workers."