Posted: June 27, 2013


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

There is nothing like plotting a comeback over a nice lunch of surf and turf.

It is what the Republicans in the state House of Representatives did. A little lobster, a little beef, and it can give the impression better days are coming, even if their current predicament says otherwise.

They are down to the Democrats by 27-14, and seven seats are a lot to win to get out of the basement, where the House minority dwells in Dover inside Legislative Hall.

The Republicans have been there since the 2008 election, ending a 24-year run in the majority, and their drive to try to get back accelerated Tuesday with a midday fund-raiser at Dover Downs, where they showed they were serious by persuading about 130 people to attend at $125 a ticket, all paid in full, no comps except for the speakers.

It was entirely a caucus initiative -- politics helps those who help themselves -- put together by Danny Short, the minority leader from Seaford in Sussex County, where the conservative votes are, and by Debbie Hudson, the minority whip from Greenville in Chateau Country, where the money is.

"It's an uphill fight, and we have to start, and Danny and I decided to move ahead without the party to increase our size, whether it's one or six," Hudson said.

The chances of a takeover are not good. There are only three representative districts in all of Delaware with more Republican than Democratic voters in them, and they are already Republican seats, held by Hudson in Greenville, Joe Miro in Hockessin/Pike Creek Valley and Ron Gray in Sussex County.

There are not many vulnerable Democratic representatives, either. Only three of them were elected in 2012 with under 55 percent of the vote -- Dennis E. Williams in Brandywine Hundred, Trey Paradee in Kent County and John Atkins in Sussex County.

There is also an increasing sense in Dover that the districts are so locked in, the legislators have more to fear from a primary from their flanks, the Republicans from the tea party and the Democrats from the progressives, than they do from the other party.

Still, the 2014 election for the House Republicans could mean now or never.

It is possible they could benefit from the "Six-Year Itch," the political phenomenon where the president's party typically loses ground in the sixth year in office. Nor does anybody know if the electorate really had the stomach for the most liberal legislative agenda to come to Dover since the 1960s with its bills for gay marriage, taxes, guns and a repeal of the death penalty.

Otherwise, if the 2016 election has Joe Biden or Hillary Clinton at the top of the Democratic ticket, well, forget about it.

There was an unmistakable sense of dissatisfaction at the fund-raiser, and not only because the Republicans have turned into the state's incredible shrinking party with no governor for 20 years, no member of Congress elected for five years and no state Senate majority for 40 years, but also because of the economic climate.

It came across during the program, which was a panel discussion with three businessmen. It was moderated by Glenn Kenton, a lawyer who was the secretary of state during the Republicans' glory days under Pete du Pont, the governor from 1977 to 1985.

The panelists were Brian DiSabatino of EDiS, a construction company, Fred Hertrich, the owner of an array of auto dealerships, and Stan Sykora of Erco Ceilings & Interiors.

They lamented what they regarded as a listlessness in the business environment and a lack of creativity in the state's response to it, only to be brought up short by a question from Scott Kidner, a business lobbyist who operates at the intersection of private enterprise and politics.

Kidner said, "The common denominator is elections. When will you ask your employees to run? When will you run?"

Sykora replied, "It's a lot to lose and little to gain. Putting yourself out there in the public sector gains me nothing and alienates half my customers."

It goes to show how tough it will be for the House Republicans as they try to upend the Democrats. As the old political saying warns, you can't beat somebody with nobody, not to mention they still have to find a way to beat somebody with anybody.