Posted: June 6, 2010


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

"Campaign Notebook" is a collection of noteworthy political items around the state. This edition takes a look at a mash-up of an event in Milton and a particular distinction of Delaware's congressional delegation.

The little old town of Milton was the place for a cozy concert by country rave Billy Dean and a scrumptious lunch buffet to go along with it, but the admission was rather unusual.

People had to contribute $25 to the Food Bank of Delaware, have their additional donations of nonperishable food weighed by Russ McCabe, a Democratic legislative candidate, and shake hands in the lunch line with a political cast of Jack Markell, Chris Coons and Michele Rollins.

It was Jack Markell's Seventh Annual Summer Bash, held Saturday in sunny splendor with about 900 people milling around a neighborhood field shaded by a huge white party tent, as motley an event as ever there was one.

This is where country meets culinary meets campaigning.

Four election seasons and seven years ago, the summer bash was brought forth by Corey Marshall-Steele, an imaginative, relentless fireball who would be no match even for caffeine. He met Markell while volunteering on a local legislative race, pledged allegiance, and is known these days as the administrator for Woodburn, the governor's house in Dover.

The bash was conceived as a low-dollar fund-raiser for Markell when he was the Democratic state treasurer, morphed into the same for his gubernatorial campaign, and after he was elected governor, it was refashioned as a charitable event beginning in 2009 for the Food Bank.

Year after year the crowd is treated to the improbable appearance of a country music star in this tiny town, tucked away like a Victorian postcard in Sussex County.

This time it was Billy Dean, delivered on an antique tractor as he sang, "Thank God I'm a Country Boy," which he ended, "Thank God I'm in Delaware today." He followed with some of his hits, like "We Just Disagree" and "Somewhere in My Broken Heart."

The bash used to be an all-Democratic affair, but once the Food Bank became the focus, Republicans could not wait to come. In brief remarks during a break in the singing, Markell amiably pointed out the politicians, regardless of party.

There were shout-outs for Chris Coons, the Democratic executive of New Castle County, and Mike Castle, the Republican congressman, both running for the Senate, as well as for Velda Jones-Potter, the Democratic state treasurer, and Tom Wagner, the Republican state auditor, both on the ballot this year, and also Michele Rollins, the Republicans' endorsed congressional candidate.

It is what Delawareans expect in an election year. Wherever two or more of them are gathered, there is politics.

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Chris Coons would not pull down the financial curve for the congressional delegation if he is elected senator.

Delaware was identified last year as one of two states with an all-millionaire congressional crew by Roll Call, a newspaper that covers Capitol Hill. The other state, with five members, was Nevada.

It could only happen here once Joe Biden became the Democratic vice president. Biden, a senator from 1973 to 2009, was unfailingly listed as one of the poorest members of Congress. Not so Ted Kaufman, the Democrat appointed to replace him.

The Kaufman household at a minimum was worth nearly $8 million, and possibly more, according to Roll Call. A more precise tally is unobtainable. While members are required annually to disclose their personal finances, they do so only in broad ranges -- listing assets as worth between $15,000 and $50,000 or between $1 million and $5 million, for example.

As for the rest of the delegation, the households of Mike Castle and Tom Carper, the Democratic senator, both clocked in at a minimum of $2 million.

It is the same for Coons -- another $2 million household.

Candidates, like incumbents, are required to provide personal financial statements. Coons was the first to file one, with the household worth of the other federal candidates still to come.

There is no doubt about one of them, though. Michele Rollins does not have a Chateau Country address for nothing. She would not be dragging down the delegation's financial curve, either.