Posted: July 27, 2010


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

Phil Gramm has campaigned in Delaware before. The Texas Republican, who left the Senate eight years ago, was here for his flash-in-the-pan presidential campaign of 1996.

He talked then about his unlikely friendship with Joe Biden, a mutual regard between a prickly Republican and a motor-mouth Democrat. Gramm was especially charmed by a nickname Biden had for him.

When Gramm said what the nickname was, it sounded to an East Coast ear like "Bob Wah." Numerous repetitions later, it was determined to be "Barbed Wire."

"Joe Biden was one of my favorites in the Senate. Completely wrong, but a very sweet man," Gramm said Monday.

Gramm came to Wilmington for Judy Travis, a Republican running against Bryon Short, the Democratic state representative for a Brandywine Hundred district stretching west from Claymont.

This is not normal fare for ex-senators who ran for president, but there is a reason. Travis' daughter works for Gramm at UBS, the international investment bank. Before Gramm was in politics, he was an economics professor.

Gramm spoke to about 75 people at a $35-a-ticket event for Travis at Porky Oliver Golf Club, and he also attended a dinner hosted for her by Glenn Kenton, the secretary of state from 1977 to 1985 for Republican Gov. Pete du Pont.

Gramm explained his renewed interest in politics to the Porky Oliver crowd.

"I was perfectly happy for seven years, but in the last year, I started to get worried," he said. "I'm worried about losing my freedom, and I never thought that in America, that would be a core concern, but I've never lived in an America like I have lived in the last 18 months."

Gramm's seven-year timeline out of politics had the effect of skipping over his 2008 foray as an economics adviser to John McCain's presidential campaign, which Gramm had to leave after suggesting the Great Recession was showing the country had "sort of become a nation of whiners."

Oh well. The timeline was a small infraction, nothing like candidates inventing military heroics for themselves or a governor sending word he was hiking the Appalachian Trail.

The Republicans would not mind if Gramm turned out to be a living, breathing metaphor for Travis' campaign. He was a Democrat who switched to Republican, and the Republicans want Travis to flip a Democratic district their way.

The problem is, Gramm was in Texas, which was on its way to giving the country George Bush, while Travis is in a district that gave the state the boyhood upbringing of John Carney. Brandywine Hundred's affinity with the Republican Party used to be second only to its identification with Uncle Dupie, but those days are gone. It trends Democratic now.

The Republicans have thrown everything they have at Bryon Short, first in a 2007 special election when they were bent on keeping the seat Republican and again in 2008 when they wanted it back, but they have not been able to get him.

They will try again with Travis. "She is a unique candidate. She fits the district. In this Year of the Woman, this may be one of the surprises," said Priscilla Rakestraw, the Republican national committeewoman.

Travis is the founder of Stockings for Soldiers, which sends Christmas stockings to the troops overseas. She started it after her son, a West Point graduate in 2001, spent 14 months in Iraq.

This is a public-oriented family, not just a daughter with connections to Gramm and a son with connections to the military, but also another son with a Fox News internship, which included an assignment with Glenn Beck.

"I will be a strong, responsible voice for lower taxes, smaller government, more freedom and opportunity," Travis said.

Gramm saw her as a fellow free-marketeer.

"Judy is a very compassionate person, but the one thing I love about her compassion, it's not just compassion for people who don't work. It's not just compassion for people who are riding in the wagon. She has honest-to-God compassion for people who are pulling the wagon, for people that are paying taxes," Gramm said.

"I never understood -- and I do not understand today -- a government that cares more about people the government is taking care of than the people that are funding the government and make it all possible. It is a complete perversion of the system."

The years go by, but Gramm is still the same "Bob Wah."