Posted: July 26, 2007


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

The first time Colin R.J. Bonini decided to try for statewide office, it was 1995, and he fancied he had the makings of the next Joe Biden in him.

Bonini was 30 years old, a rookie Republican legislator from Kent County. He was so frisky, he wanted to run the next year against U.S. Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., the Democrat who set the state standard for political precociousness with an upset victory at 29. Bonini got far enough along to have former Gov. Pierre S. "Pete" du Pont host an intimate fund-raiser for him in Chateau Country before bailing out.

The second time Bonini looked at running for statewide office, it was 2005, and he had the makings of a mid-life crisis.

His 40th birthday was here, so was an expanding girth, and he was still a Delaware state senator who wanted to be a U.S. senator. He dealt with it all by pledging to donate to the Kent County SPCA for every pound he lost and musing about taking on U.S. Sen. Thomas R. Carper, the Democratic ex-governor who was up the next year. Bonini eventually dropped 40 pounds as well as the senatorial campaign, and a brief flirtation with running for state treasurer also came to nothing.

Now Bonini is thinking about statewide office again, it is 2007, and he is perilously close to the makings of an odd-numbered-year candidate.

It is someone whose campaigns for higher office, time and time again, rise in an odd-numbered off year and evaporate in an even-numbered election year. When the moment comes to pull the trigger, the odd-numbered-year candidate pulls the plug.

Legislative Hall is a common breeding ground for odd-numbered-year candidates, not surprising for a place known as a sea of ego and a desert of gumption. One prime odd-numbered-year candidate has been state Rep. Terry R. Spence, although these days the Republican speaker is more focused on keeping his seat in a Democratic district than on primping for governor or New Castle County executive or whatever.

Bonini's newest flier is for lieutenant governor, a position elected separately from the governor and due to be vacated by Lt. Gov. John C. Carney Jr., who is moving on to a high-profile rivalry with Treasurer Jack A. Markell for the Democratic nomination for governor.

The Democrats have a couple of candidates, Insurance Commissioner Matthew P. Denn and Wilmington Council President Theodore Blunt, looking at lieutenant governor, but Bonini has the Republican field to himself for now.

Scorning history, Bonini is sounding emphatic. "I am running for lieutenant governor. I think our party needs a common-sense conservative to step up. This is the time and the office," he said.

What, no escape clause? This is politics, the land of free-speaking and the home of the flip-flop. Of course there is an escape clause. "If I don't get the Republican  endorsement, that changes things. I am hoping that whoever our gubernatorial candidate is and the party will want Colin Bonini for lieutenant governor," Bonini said.

Leading Republican officials are urging Alan B. Levin, the ex-boss of Happy Harry's, to be their candidate for governor. If he is, he can be expected to want a say in the choice for lieutenant governor, but not yet.

Levin hardly was impressed by Bonini's early entry. With that background in retail, Levin seemed willing, if need be, to treat Bonini the way shopkeepers handle merchandise -- first in, first out.

"The hope is that the governor and lieutenant governor candidates will mesh with each other," Levin said. "Others have expressed interest. I'm not really concerned about that right now."

If Bonini does become an even-numbered-year candidate for lieutenant governor, he would have to give up his legislative seat because his term ends in 2008 and he cannot file for both.

If Bonini blinks and goes for re-election, it would be a classic odd-numbered-year candidacy -- first running for higher office and then for cover.

# # #

Matt Denn is blogging. As he campaigns for lieutenant governor, he is offering an inside look at his candidacy. He is for corn dogs at the Delaware State Fair. He is against subways in New York City. In other words, it is funny.

Most of the Denn notes posted on are about his family -- Adam and Zachary, his two-year-old twins, and his wife Michele, usually called "Mrs. Denn" on the blog. Here is part of an entry on a trip to the state fair:

Adam was entranced by the baby chickens, which kids are allowed to hold. This led to the following exchange.

ME: Adam, do you want to hold a baby chicken?

ADAM: Yes.

ME: You remember that you have to be gentle with the chicken, right?

ADAM: Yes.

ME: You just put your hand out, and I will put it in your hand, but you don't squeeze it, right?

ADAM: Right.

I take chicken and place it in Adam's outstretched left hand. Adam yells "chicken!" and gleefully grabs it so hard with his right hand that the poor chicken's eyes bulge.

ME: Adam, let go of the chicken!

ADAM: [cries]

The crying was soon stemmed by the appearance of the Delaware state parade. The boys dined on a nutritious dinner of French fries and funnel cake while they watched the parade. . . . By the way, the baby chicken is just fine.

If Denn stays in politics, he may be the first candidate to come out in favor of illiteracy. Otherwise, once his boys learn to read his blog, they could be available to campaign against him.