Posted: July 14, 2004


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

Democratic Party officials are expecting to emerge from a meeting Wednesday evening in Dover with a congressional candidate to plug what is notoriously the weakest spot on their statewide ballot, Delaware Grapevine has learned.

Not surprisingly, the party leadership is turning to a novice candidate to find someone willing to take on U.S. Rep. Michael N. Castle, the formidable six-term Republican and former governor who has been Delaware's lone member in the House of Representatives since 1992.

The candidate is Paul Donnelly, a 53-year-old Smyrna Democrat who has been active in Kent County politics and works as a family service worker for New Castle County Head Start, the early childhood education program.

He came to Delaware 14 years ago after working as a union representative in New York for the Communications Workers of America. His family includes a son who was discharged from the army in May after a tour of duty in Kuwait and Iraq.

"He is someone who will grab hold of a lot of people. This is a man who can really relate, right down to having a son in the middle of the war," said Martha A. Denison, a Newark area Democratic official who helped to recruit Donnelly.

Elizabeth B. Wenk, a spokeswoman for Castle, said the congressman would welcome Donnelly to the race if he is the candidate.

Donnelly is expected to file his candidacy Thursday, a little more than two weeks before the July 30 deadline to get on the ballot and fill the last line available on either the Democratic or Republican statewide tickets.

It means that both parties have settled on their nominees or are awaiting the outcome of primaries on Sept. 11 for statewide slates for the U.S. House, governor, lieutenant governor and insurance commissioner.

The Democrats customarily have been tardy in locating a congressional candidate, relying on walk-ons whose high-water mark was holding Castle to 66 percent of the vote in 1998. The only exception was Castle's first House race in 1992 against S.B. Woo, an ex-lieutenant governor.

Donnelly was brought to the party's attention by Denison, the vice-chair of the 24th Representative District Democratic Committee in suburban Newark, and by state Rep. Bruce C. Ennis, a Smyrna Democrat who represents the 28th Representative District where Donnelly lives.

Denison and Ennis took Donnelly to state Treasurer Jack A. Markell, who is in charge of the Democrats' candidate recruitment for this election. From there, Donnelly was introduced to other party officials and labor union leaders who traditionally back Democratic candidates.

Donnelly listed his commitment to Head Start as a prime reason for his interest in running, because he opposes legislation Castle introduced to reauthorize and restructure the program.

"Hopefully President Kerry will kick it to the curb," Donnelly quipped.