Posted: June 27, 2007


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

A bumper sticker on a car outside groused, "I wish I lived in New York so I could vote against Hillary!" Inside there was a campaign operative from the anti-Hillary -- Rudy Giuliani.

It was a sleepy, sizzling summer day in slower lower Delaware, where presidential politics typically would get as much thought as the price of snow shovels, but the 2008 race is pushy and insinuating itself whenever it can, an insomniac of a campaign that never stops.

This state will never be mistaken for New Hampshire, home to the professional voters of the first-in-the-nation primary. New Hampshire is the only place on the planet where the people probably are subjected to more about the comings and goings of Joe Biden than Paris Hilton.

Still, the stirrings are here. The Sussex County Republican Women's Club had its monthly meeting Wednesday at the Sussex Pines Country Club in Georgetown, and Giuliani's campaign sent in Misty Haungs, who is being assigned to Delaware full time to troll for votes, a commodity so precious it was worth driving over back country roads to meet 45 women and a few men over lunch.

Haungs' presence is the latest sign that Delaware has found a niche in presidential politics. The primary is scheduled for a tumultuous Tuesday on Feb. 5, when some 20 states will be voting after earlier caucuses and primaries in Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire and South Carolina, and the nominations for both parties are likely to be locked up.

"We're hoping that all the candidates take Delaware seriously," said Sussex County Councilman Vance C. Phillips, who is also the Republican state vice chair.

The campaigning has been fitful but persistent. On the Republican side, Giuliani and Mitt Romney came calling earlier this month, and John McCain is holding a private fund-raiser on July 12 at the Wilmington Club, although it has yet to be decided whether McCain will add a more open event or stay closeted with contributors willing to pay $1,000 or $2,300.

The Democrats have been in a sort of candidate quarantine, as Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, John Edwards and the rest leave Delaware to Biden, but the party is turning it into a badge of honor.

The New Castle County and Kent County Democrats took votes this month to express pride in Biden's run, not just as a favorite son but a viable candidate, as a prelude to what is expected to be a similar statement from state party officials, probably in the fall.

"He's Delaware's favorite son, and he's really made a name for himself. The Foreign Relations Committee has really put him in the spotlight," said Abby L. Betts, the Kent County Democratic chair.

Meanwhile, the Republicans are enjoying the attention -- especially so in Sussex County, the most Republican of the state's three counties, where politics is a way of life.

David M. Burris, the Sussex County Republican chair, declared early that  Romney was his candidate. J. Everett Moore Jr., who formerly chaired both the state and Sussex Republicans, will be stepping forward for Fred Thompson as that campaign launches. Mary Spicer, the president of the Eastern Sussex Republican Club, has signed on with McCain.

Plenty more are holding back. "We've got good candidates. It's going to make us take longer in deciding. I have not. If I were a Democrat, I'd have the same problem," said Phyllis M. Byrne, a past Sussex Republican chair.

Although Sussex County politics is played for keeps more often than not, presidential politics is enough removed that it has been something of a lark, or at least it has so far. "At this point we have a choice. Once the [national] convention occurs, we all support the same candidate," Spicer said.

As the Sussex Republicans choose sides, they are practicing politics the way it always has been done in this state -- personally.

Moore, for example, has been impressed with Fred Thompson since meeting him in 2000 at a fund-raiser for U.S. Sen. William V. Roth Jr. at Roth's beach house, and Nan Colella, who claims to have the only "Rudy" yard sign in Sussex County in front of her house in Ocean View, said she made up her mind after meeting Giuliani at his Flag Day rally in Wilmington.

"After talking with him, I got the feeling he could do the job," Colella said.

The state insists upon being won one voter at a time. If this is the campaign that never stops, the culprits are staring back from the mirror.