Posted: June 26, 2008


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

When John Carney declared his candidacy for governor last week, he showcased his brotherhood with Sam Lathem by having the Delaware AFL-CIO president introduce him in Wilmington at the last stop of his announcement tour.

Carney has Lathem but not his labor organization. By design, it is sitting out the Democratic primary between Carney and Jack Markell.

The state AFL-CIO, a collection of 233 local unions, some of them large but some quite tiny, met Saturday to discuss endorsements as Carney was traveling through the three counties.

Labor's blessing would have been a nice cap to Carney's week, to go along with his announcement ceremonies and a vote from the state party's governing council to choose Carney over Markell, but it could not be.

"It's a primary. We don't get involved in primaries unless there's an incumbent or a union person involved," Lathem said.

The lack of an official commitment looks to be something of a technicality, anyway. The reality is that Carney is building his candidacy through the traditional Democratic/labor alliance by accumulating twin piles of endorsements from the party structure and from individual unions.

Carney not only has Lathem in his corner but also Gerald Brady, the AFL-CIO executive director who is a Democratic state representative from Wilmington.

Labor backing matters enough for Carney's Web site to display the heraldic-style emblems of the unions that are for him, from a brace of horses symbolizing the Teamsters to a hand clutching bolts of lightning for the electrical workers.

David Hamrick, who is Carney's campaign manager, took the symbolism further. Even if an endorsement from the full AFL-CIO was out of reach, as the campaign knew it would be, there was still Sam Lathem to point to.

"That says everything we need to know about the support from working families," Hamrick said.

What is happening here is a novel political twist to try to turn an old equation upside down. Carney is banking that in the case of the AFL-CIO, the sum of the parts is greater than the sum of the whole.

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Back in the days when the Republicans thought their candidate for governor would be Alan Levin, the onetime owner of Happy Harry's drugstores, Sam Lathem startled the state's political set by declaring he personally would support Levin if Carney did not beat Markell for the Democratic nomination.

Lathem had a working relationship with Levin, who was finishing up a stint as the president of the Delaware State Chamber of Commerce, but it is not carrying over to Bill Lee, the Republicans' endorsed candidate for governor.

"Markell is my second choice. I'm going back to being a Democrat," Lathem quipped.

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In contrast to Carney's party-and-union pattern, Jack Markell is acting like a Verizon Wireless commercial -- It's the network.

Markell is going around the tried-and-trusty structure to put together his campaign. While he is the favorite of some Democratic clubs, like the Progressive Democrats and the Stonewall Democrats, his operation is relying on superior financial power and a media blitz starting next month with television, radio and direct mail and continuing until Primary Day on Sept. 9.

With the political climate as sulky as it is, it could be a good year to be presented as an outsider -- although perhaps not as good in a primary, where party favorites commonly prevail.

It means this matchup between Carney and Markell is a political scientist's dream. The primary amounts to a living laboratory to test the two approaches.

Not surprising for a candidate who is giving the impression of making it up as he goes along, Markell is jettisoning the standard announcement tour of a daylong swing with three or four appearances spaced throughout New Castle, Kent and Sussex counties.

The practice has been around since the early 1970s. In the wrong hands, it can be really stale, kind of like still arguing over whether Bush or Gore won Florida.

In keeping with Markell's strategy to cast a wide net for voters, his campaign kickoff is a "57 in 57" tour, traveling to all of Delaware's 57 cities and towns over 57 hours from July 2 to July 6.

While the three-county regimen took the better part of four decades to to go flat, it could happen to "57 in 57" a lot faster if it turns repetitive -- like somewhere between Newport and Elsmere.

Joe Rogalsky, the communications director for Markell, promises there will be variety -- some speechmaking, some meet-and-greets, some Independence Day parades and so on.

"I don't think the same speech 57 times is a good idea," Rogalsky said.

Not even in a roomful of insomniacs.