Posted: Aug. 5, 2005


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

Before the Republicans have a candidate to run against U.S. Sen. Thomas R. Carper in 2006, before the Democrats have someone to oppose state Auditor R. Thomas Wagner Jr. on their next statewide ballot, there are presidential stirrings for 2008 in Delaware.

No, not Joseph R. Biden Jr. The Democratic senator does not count because he lives here.

The presidential flurry comes from George F. Allen, a Virginia Republican who is probably better known here as the son of the famous football coach than as a first-term senator and ex-governor.

Allen will be building up his political recognition on Saturday, Aug. 20, with a couple of public appearances in Sussex County. He will go country in the afternoon by attending the annual Crab Feast & Watermelon Extravaganza, hosted by Sussex County Councilman Vance C. Phillips at Trap Pond, and then go upscale in the evening with a reception in Rehoboth Beach.

Allen is one of dozens of candidates, Republican and Democratic, being mentioned in a wide-open field for the White House with George W. Bush barred from leading the Republican ticket again after two terms.

Some of the better-known names for the Republicans are U.S. Sen. John McCain, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani. For the Democrats, some of the leading names are U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton, U.S. Sen. John Kerry and former U.S. Sen. John Edwards.

Also Joe Biden, who has been on television so much he could be the Runaway Bride.

Three years before the presidential election, it is one thing to be going to Iowa, where the hugely-influential first caucus is, or New Hampshire, where the mother-lode first primary is. But Delaware? Maybe compared to some of those other candidates, Allen has to start somewhere.

"Why not Trap Pond?" Phillips quipped.

Actually, there is some sense to it. Delaware, which switched to a primary from a caucus in 1996, finally found a modest niche for itself on the presidential calendar in 2004. It joined the voting in the first cluster of states following Iowa and New Hampshire, making it pertinent enough for campaign stops from Kerry, Joe Lieberman and Al Sharpton, and it contributed to the momentum that made Kerry's nomination inevitable.

If a Republican candidate wants to come courting, it might as well be Sussex County, the most Republican of the state's three counties.

"What he may be doing is finding his feet. This is a place you can do that. If you're going to go out experimenting, you might as well do it in a state that isn't going to cost you a lot of votes if you fall flat," said James R. Soles, a political science professor emeritus from the University of Delaware.

The visit is also somewhat neighborly. "It's close to his home state. He might view it as part of the Delmarva Peninsula. When you haven't really been out there before, people feel they need to seize the moment outside of their own state and sphere of recognition," said Phyllis M. Byrne, the Republican state vice chair who used to be the party's Sussex County chair.

As early as Allen's visit is, he is not the first potential candidate to drop by. Gingrich was here in June as the honored guest at a Republican fund-raiser in Wilmington.

If there is to be any presidential action here, no doubt it will have to be on the Republican side. Because of Biden, the Democrats can be counted on to stay away -- out of courtesy but also realistically. No Democrat campaigned here the last time until Biden definitively took himself out of the running.

If Biden comes on, the Republicans are unlikely to bother, either -- even in Sussex County.

"It will be futile for Republicans to come in here if Joe's the candidate," Soles said.