Posted: June 5, 2007


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

U.S. Sen. Thomas R. Carper did everything but sing "Kumbaya" last month when he tried to clear away a Democratic gubernatorial primary with a proposal for a unity ticket of Lt. Gov. John C. Carney Jr. for governor and Treasurer Jack A. Markell for lieutenant governor.

The deal faltered when Markell could not be guaranteed he would not wind up in another primary for lieutenant governor, and Carper put the effort on hold.

"I think it's best right now for me to step back. We worked very hard to do what we thought was best for Delaware and the people involved. We came pretty close. We've still got 18 months," he said.

Carper wryly acknowledged there was another way to reduce the intramural rivalries for Carney, Markell and other Democratic up-and-comers, not that he was advocating it.

"They'd like to push Joe and me and the governor off a cliff," Carper said.

Maybe they would . . . as long as they did not get caught. Committing felony murder means never being able to run for higher office.

Because of Carper, U.S. Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Gov. Ruth Ann Minner on the Democratic side and U.S. Rep. Michael N. Castle on the Republican side, no one else has broken into the state's top political ranks since the 1980s.

Even now, only the governor has her political exit planned. Minner, who is 72, intends to retire when her second term ends in January 2009. Biden, who is 64, has shown a certain willingness to leave the Senate at the same time, although he wants a mandate from the rest of the country to do it.

Castle, who will be 68 in July, is up for re-election for a new two-year term in 2008. Carper, who turned 60 in January, is in the early months of a six-year term that will take him to the 2012 election.

Both Castle and Carper are bumping up against what is known in Delaware as the "John Williams Rule." It is named for the late John J. Williams, a Republican who served in the U.S. Senate from 1947 to 1971. He said no one should run for the Congress if it meant serving beyond 70 years of age, and he set the example by retiring instead of running when he was 66 in 1970.

Castle, who said last year he thought Williams "had it right," seems likely to fudge the rule and run again at least in 2008. Another term would leave him in the House of Representatives until he is 71.

Carper is believed to have offered to follow the John Williams Rule if it would secure the deal between Carney and Markell. If all worked as planned, it would mean that Markell would be positioned to run for an open U.S. Senate seat in 2012 after four years as lieutenant governor.

Until now, there has not been so much as an inkling in the state's political circles that Carper, who is youthful enough and competitive enough to have broken his foot when he ran a half-marathon a day after playing volleyball in March, contemplated anything except decades more in office.

Carper only hedged when he was asked Monday in a brief interview about the John Williams Rule. "I haven't thought about it. Should I? In the United States Senate, if you're 70, you're still a teen-ager," he said.

Carper did say he has no intention of becoming another Strom Thurmond, a South Carolina Republican who was still a senator when he turned 100, or even another Robert C. Byrd, a West Virginia Democratic senator who will be 90 in November.

For Carper, maybe 90 is the new 70. Call it the "Robert Byrd Rule."

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The Republicans did not allow any press coverage last week when Mitt Romney brought his presidential campaign here for a pricey fund-raiser followed by a rally at a guarded estate in Chateau Country.

The Democrats willingly filled in for the Republicans by issuing a press release. It was headlined, "During money trip to Delaware, Romney hides from voters, the press and the issues of Iraq and immigration."

The Republicans are bringing in Rudy Giuliani next week. There is no word yet about whether they will let the Democrats handle the press relations this time, too.