Posted: July 3, 2008


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

Jack Markell caught a break in "57 in 57," his travels to declare for governor by campaigning for 57 hours over an elongated July Fourth holiday in all 57 of Delaware's cities and towns.

Claymont is not one of them. Having a distinct geographic identity is not the same as being incorporated. It gave Markell an easy excuse to skip a trip to the northeastern compass point that is proud to be the boyhood home of John Carney, his rival for the Democratic nomination.

Markell ignored Claymont, although it is deeply Democratic, the same way he shrugged off the party organization and the labor unions, all conventional building blocks of a Democratic primary win. They are the bedrock for Carney.

By default, it has turned Markell's campaign into a treasure hunt for voters to call his own.

For five days, from Wednesday through Sunday, he is prospecting for them in Arden, Ardencroft, Ardentown, Bellefonte, Bethany Beach, Bethel, Blades, Bowers, Bridgeville, Camden, etc., etc., Townsend, Viola, Wilmington, Woodside and Wyoming.

Never mind that it makes Markell look like someone who has listened to Johnny Cash ("I've Been Everywhere") and Todd Chappelle ("I'm From Delaware") a few too many times to be normal.

"I want to be the governor of all Delawareans, so it makes sense to go to every town in Delaware," Markell said.

Markell has more in play than "57 in 57." He also is trying to capitalize on some key advantages he has over Carney. One is money. The other is being the state treasurer and not being the lieutenant governor for Ruth Ann Minner.

Those advantages came together in a radio spot Markell is airing as the opening round of a media blitz, which also will include television and direct mail, while it continues until the primary on Sept. 9.

The radio spot distills Markell into "the change we need." For a Democrat, it is a good year to be for change. As a political rallying cry, it is a first cousin to Barack Obama's "change we can believe in" and turns its back on the slogan on Carney's yard signs promising, "The experience we need. A leader we trust."

Carney did strike back Thursday with a television spot of his own. It highlights his involvement in the marathon negotiations over Bluewater Wind and gibes, "Change is hard. You can't just talk about it."

Markell finished the first day of "57 in 57" with a $25-a-person fund raiser that doubled as the official opening of a campaign office at the Wilmington Riverfront. It drew about 200 people but not much of Democratic officialdom.

Matt Denn, the insurance commissioner running for lieutenant governor, stopped by, and there was a flexing of solidarity from Markell's loyal base in the Newark area, where he grew up, in the presence of state Sen. Dave Sokola and New Castle County Councilwoman Stephanie McClellan, but not much else.

It showed how much Markell really is on his own, and what a feat it will be if he outpolls Carney for the right to take on Bill Lee, the Republicans' endorsed candidate who remains without an official primary opponent.

Anything seems possible, though, when it is early July and the crowd is friendly. "I always back winners. This guy's what Delaware needs," said Rich Przywara, a longtime friend.

Przywara runs a foundation for West Chester University, where he went after a stint as a general manager in the New Castle County government, but on election days he turns into Markell's driver. Before their rounds, they go to a barber shop for haircuts, and then off they go. "I'm his good luck charm," Przywara said.

Markell's outsider status was a badge of honor in this setting. "There are some people in the state who said, you know what, Jack, it's not your turn," he said.

"Boooooo," went the crowd.

It turns politics on its head when the best line in a speech  raises catcalls instead of applause, but it fits with Markell's unconventional approach. Who ever heard of a Democratic candidate whose first step was to write off Claymont?