Posted: July 20, 2006


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

The last time a sitting member of Congress was ousted in Delaware, it took $7.5 million.

The flush campaigner was Thomas R. Carper, a Democrat who was unusually well-situated as a challenger to attract that extraordinary sum in the 2000 election against U.S. Sen. William V. Roth Jr., a five-term Republican.

The tale of Tom Carper shows just how monstrous a climb it is for Jan C. Ting, the Republicans' endorsed candidate for the U.S. Senate, and Dennis Spivack, the Democrats' endorsed candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives, the 2006 challengers whose campaigns only recently crept past the $100,000 mark in contributions.

Carper was a two-term governor who already held the record for statewide victories, and he was 53. Bill Roth not only was an aging 79 with fainting spells from vertigo, but he was best known for a retirement account, the Roth IRA. It was not a good omen.

Carper's money was the untold story of the campaign. Treasury to treasury, Roth appeared to outspend him $4.3 million to $2.5 million, but there was more to it than that simple comparison.

The national Democrats -- the Democratic National Committee and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee -- carpet-bombed the state for Carper with another $5 million. Their Republican counterparts, whose assistance Roth largely declined, devoted a negligible $842,000 to Delaware.

It meant Carper and the national Democrats surpassed Roth and the national Republicans in spending by nearly $2.5 million, according to a post-election analysis by Joseph A. Pika, a political science professor at the University of Delaware.

The money won. It was aided by a sea change occurring in Delaware politics, unrecognized at the time, with a drift from a "swing state" comfortable with both major parties to one more at ease with the Democrats -- at least upstate where two-thirds of the people live. Nor did it help that Roth's polling was off, so he never knew he needed to save himself.

Carper tallied 55 percent, carrying New Castle County while losing both Kent County and Sussex County downstate.

"Although it is tempting to conclude that Roth's advanced age and untimely health problems led to his defeat, the causes seem more structural than idiosyncratic," Pika wrote in the groundbreaking analysis he did for the Center for the Study of Elections & Democracy at Brigham Young University.

In other words, Roth would have lost even if he had been vigorous enough to run a marathon.

Six years later, Carper is up for re-election with Ting, an affable law professor, running against him. Ting has done what a challenger is supposed to do by boldly differentiating himself from Carper on issues such as immigration, taxes and flag burning and also by knocking Carper as the governor who deregulated electric rates and sent them soaring, but the question is, can Ting get the voters to pay attention?

It takes a whole lot of money, and Ting does not have it. Since the last race, Carper collected $4.3 million and still had $2.5 million in the bank as of June 30, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a Washington-based organization that tracks campaign financing on its Web site.

Ting raised $122,000 -- including $12,000 from his own pocket -- by June 30, according to the center. It is a far cry from the cache of $5 million that Roth and the Republicans spent, and even that amount was not enough to sustain an incumbent, let alone a challenger like Ting.

The dollars also are stunningly lopsided in the race for Delaware's lone congressional seat, which currently belongs to U.S. Rep. Michael N. Castle, a Republican who is a former two-term governor like Carper and holds the state record for House tenure with seven terms, beginning with the 1992 election.

Castle was sitting on $1.3 million as of June 30, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Even though Spivack, a lawyer who once practiced with Castle, was so proud of his fund raising that he touted it in a press release, his treasury is dwarfed miserably. What he called his "financial leaps and bounds" amounted to $123,000 in contributions -- about the same as Ting -- plus his personal investment of $116,000 for a total of $239,000, according to the center.

Both Ting and Spivack had about $78,000 unspent in their campaign accounts.

Nationwide the voters are said to be in a sour mood, so much so that it gives challengers hope for an electoral tide that will sweep incumbents out.

Carper and Castle have so much political and financial capital, though, it is hard to think that a tide would do. Not unless it reached the proportion of Noah's flood.