Posted: Sept. 2, 2004
By Celia Cohen
The Delaware delegates have not exactly had the best seats in the hall at the Republican national convention in New York City – scrunched off to the side, way in the back, with only the contingent from Washington, D.C., behind them.
This is what comes from being cast as blue on the electoral map, where states that go Republican are colored red and states that go Democratic are colored blue.
Delaware has not been a red presidential state since 1988, when George W. Bush’s father was elected, and the Republicans’ problems do not stop there.
The makeup of the state’s delegations to the two national conventions made the point. The Democrats in Boston in July were bustling with statewide officeholders – a couple of senators, a governor, lieutenant governor and treasurer – while the Republicans this week had only a congressman and attorney general to show off.
The Delaware Republicans are not kidding themselves about what their seat assignment means, but they do not regard their state as set in blue, incapable of a comeback.
“If Delaware wants better seats, we have lots of work to do, and we’re going to do it,” said Priscilla B. Rakestraw, the Republican national committeewoman.
There was no mistaking the Delawareans’ intensity in New York. They drowned out protesters with joyful chants of “four more years,” lustily booed that “disingenuous filmmaker” Michael Moore, and showed up in strength for a breakfast on Thursday, the last day of the convention, despite a string of what-happens-here-stays-here nighttime parties.
Even U.S. Rep. Michael N. Castle, usually as moderate in his rhetoric as in his politics, got carried away, declaring in his Thursday morning breakfast speech, “If there were two people who could vote named Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden, then John Kerry probably could get elected.”
The saving grace of politics is that the pendulum swings. In the 1980s the Republicans elected governors, a senator, a congressman and other statewide officeholders. With this election they have begun trying to catch up to the Democrats’ blossoming bench by fielding what they hope will be one of their own.
The Democrats have Lt. Gov. John C. Carney Jr., Treasurer Jack A. Markell and New Castle County Council President Christopher A. Coons in office, as well as Matthew P. Denn running for insurance commissioner and Beau Biden waiting in the wings.
The Republicans intend to counter with Christopher A. Castagno for New Castle County executive, Ernesto B. Lopez for New Castle County Council president and Paul J. Pomeroy for a Newark legislative seat.
Castle believes the Democrats have given his party an opening because of the seamy state of politics in New Castle County, where the Democrats are dealing with indictments on corruption charges, a countywide official with a no-work job and a county attorney whose home address is in question.
“Every one of them is a Democrat, and maybe it’s something we ought to start talking about,” Castle said. “Delaware doesn’t tolerate practices that are not ethical. It’s unacceptable to the Delaware people.”
Castle has visions of an unusual trickle-up effect, as opposed to the more conventional coattail effect. He is suggesting that if the Republicans can get some momentum with Castagno, Lopez and Pomeroy, perhaps they can generate it upwards to the statewide ticket for governor, insurance commissioner and lieutenant governor.
“Maybe we can elect a Bill Lee and a Dave Ennis and a Jim Ursomarso,” he said.
It would suit William Swain Lee, the ex-judge running for governor, who made a one-day trip to New York on Wednesday to hobnob at an event hosted by Republican Governors Association.
Lee also had plans to announce Delaware’s vote in the presidential roll call, except that the convention organizers broke up the typically tedious practice by holding it over three days. Because Delaware was switched to Monday, he lost what he called his “40 seconds of fame.” Instead, National Committeeman W. Laird Stabler Jr. cast the state’s ballot.
Lee is engaged in an uphill race to defeat Democratic Gov. Ruth Ann Minner in a state that has re-elected three governors in a row, so he liked the idea of Castle’s trickle-up effect. He even proposed a more ambitious sandwich effect.
“If the president picks up and Chris Castagno picks up, that could impact the candidate in the middle,” he said.
As the convention wound down, Castle had a final message for the Republicans if they are to win. “It’s up to us,” he said.
The Delawareans in New York seemed ready to do their part. They have spent the week with their fellow Republicans pumping up their own patriotism – wearing star-spangled clothing, taking a boat cruise past the Statue of Liberty and glorying in the wave-the-bloody-shirt speeches of Zell Miller and Dick Cheney.
The Democrats in Boston did what they could to pry the flag from the Republicans, but as usual, the Democrats appeared to be somewhat at a disadvantage. This is one of the differences between the two parties.
The Republicans are proud to be Americans. The Democrats are grateful.