Posted: August 4, 2004; updated: Aug. 6, 2004


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

For years, Gov. Ruth Ann Minner and U.S. Sen. Thomas R. Carper have pretended to like each other, and for years, Delaware's political crowd has pretended not to notice too much that they don't.

The pretending stopped last week.

Last Thursday, during the annual Governor's Day at the Delaware State Fair in Harrington, the governor and the senator clearly and publicly got on each other's nerves, shredding the masquerade that dates back to the 1992 Democratic ticket that had Carper running for governor and Minner for lieutenant governor.

Everyone noticed.

"I found it very comical that the disdain between the two had reached that level," said one Republican politician who was there to watch.

Even U.S. Rep. Michael N. Castle, a Republican who is an ex-governor like Carper, got dragged into this one, but it was not his fault.

There were probably as many versions of what happened as there were people at the fair, and precious few of them were willing to have their names attached to what they had to say, but under those circumstances, it was possible, more or less, to piece the story together.

Carper tends to come out as the bad guy in most of the accounts, no doubt because of his reputation in the state's political circles. One Democratic politician observed wittily that Carper has a lot in common with what Theodore Roosevelt's daughter once said about him.

"My father always wanted to be the corpse at every funeral, the bride at every wedding and the baby at every christening," Alice Roosevelt Longworth said.

Minner might have diffused the situation if she had unbent just a little, but she gets no criticism from Thurman G. Adams Jr., the state Senate's Democratic president pro tem who is a fair director and longtime host of Governor's Day.

"It's Governor's Day. It's not Senator's Day," Adams said.

The relationship between Carper and Minner always has been a marriage of convenience, ever since Minner made it known that she was running for lieutenant governor, and Carper decided to take her, for better or for worse.

They co-existed best when Carper as governor needed a woman on the ticket and kissed her in public, and Minner played the dutiful lieutenant governor so she could get to be the governor, even as their staffs sniped behind the scenes at one another.

Their arrangement was still at its most workable in 2000, when Minner tapped John C. Carney Jr., who was Carper's finance secretary, to run for lieutenant governor with her.

As Minner has come into her own, however, there has been less reason for the charade. It broke down in December when the University of Delaware football team was playing for the national championship, and Minner and U.S. Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., another fellow Democrat, maneuvered to be interviewed on ESPN2 while leaving Carper out of it.

No one made a big deal out of it, though, unlike the fair.

Governor's Day came, as it always does, on Thursday of fair week, a day for the farmers to honor the governor and the governor to honor the farmers. The governor strolls the grounds with Miss Delaware and participates in agricultural events, the politicians have a dinner, and the governor is recognized before the evening's concert.

This year Minner had to make a special effort to get to the fair. She was in Boston for the Democratic national convention, leaving for home after she announced Delaware's vote in the presidential roll call sometime after 11 on Wednesday night. By early the next morning, she was in Harrington.

As Thurman Adams prepared for his day with the governor, he had a request from Carper to speak but turned it down, he said, because the schedule was tight and he would have had to make time for Castle, too.

Adams actually was surprised at Carper's request, which he regarded as horning in. "For eight years, when he was governor, no one took the highlight away from the governor," Adams said.

Carper had a different take on what happened. He said he never had an interest in speaking and only wanted to be introduced, although J. Jonathon Jones, his chief of staff, said there was an inquiry about whether Carper would have an opportunity to speak.

Carper, like Minner, had to leave Boston to go to the fair. His motives, according to his press secretary, were pure. "He wanted to go to the state fair. He loves going to the state fair," Bill Ghent said.

Adams planned to give Carper his due by introducing him at the dinner, along with Castle and other former governors, but Carper arrived late, more than two hours after the introductions, so Adams left him out.

"Carper did his usual thing. It always upsets me with Tom Carper. Tom would never go anywhere on time," Adams said.

Carper said he arrived when he said he would, his schedule based on when he could leave Boston. Still, there was one last chance for him to be introduced -- from the stage before the concert.

Although that time was supposed to be reserved for recognizing Minner and her Cabinet, Carper said he always took the time when he was governor to introduce any statewide official who was present.

As the dinner ended, people who were there say they watched an unusual political pantomime unfold.

Carper, but not Castle, made moves to follow Minner and the Cabinet to the stage. Carper kept giving Castle the eye, though, until Castle broke down and went, too.

Minner, who seems to have known exactly what was going on, was not about to be bamboozled into introducing Carper just because Castle was there, too. "She told other people, 'Thurman told me my job was to introduce the Cabinet,'" said Gregory B. Patterson, the governor's communications director.

That is what Minner did. She skipped Carper. She skipped Castle. She skipped R. Thomas Wagner Jr., the Republican auditor, and Donna Lee Williams, the outgoing Republican insurance commissioner.

Minner stuck to the script so scrupulously that she even skipped Miss Delaware, and Miss Delaware is as much a part of Governor's Day at the fair as the governor.

Carper and Castle are one thing, but Miss Delaware? That was going too far.