Posted: Aug. 28, 2005


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

There were about 400 people who came out Saturday for the Sussex County Democratic Beach Jamboree, a staple of the political calendar held every year at Cape Henlopen State Park, but it seemed as if only one in the crowd was unwilling to talk about who would be the party's 2006 candidate for attorney general.

The conspicuous silence bellowed like a bullhorn from the candidate-in-waiting himself. Joseph R. "Beau" Biden III stuck to the script that no one believes. He was there to picnic, not politick.

Never mind he was working the tables under the pavilion like someone who was prepping to run against Attorney General M. Jane Brady, the three-term Republican who got her start in statewide politics as fodder for Beau Biden's father, when U.S. Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. went for his fourth term in 1990.

"I'm here like I've always been. I've been here since I was a little kid. This is a family affair for the Bidens," Beau Biden said.

It was that. Led by the senator, the Biden contingent numbered more than a dozen, including Joe's wife Jill, sons Beau and Hunter with their wives and children, daughter Ashley and staff members.

The Bidens eclipsed other officeholders who made the jamboree a showing of politicians bringing their own babies to kiss. Assorted Democratic up-and-comers emulated the Biden family outing, much as they dream of emulating the senator's career.

The whole next tier did it -- Lt. Gov. John C. Carney Jr., state Treasurer Jack A. Markell, Insurance Commissioner Matthew P. Denn and New Castle County Executive Christopher A. Coons.

Gov. Ruth Ann Minner, who is going home to Milford when her second term ends in 2009, sat alone.

There was a light buzz in the crowd that maybe Beau Biden would take advantage of the jamboree to declare his intentions, but it was never more than wishful thinking. It was a cinch that Beau and Joe would not put themselves in a position of upstaging one another, and the jamboree customarily turns out to be an event that belongs to Joe.

The state park itself has an environmental education building named the Biden Center, which says it all, and the Sussex Democrats always give Joe Biden the last speech, the prime spot in the program. The governor opens, and the senator closes.

Still, the expectations for Beau Biden were not about to be ignored. Carney saw to it when he had his chance to speak. "Do you think Beau Biden would make a great candidate for attorney general?" he teased. "Go up to him and say, 'Beau, you gotta do it.'"

Carney was in a playful mood, period. He latched onto the longest running joke in Delaware politics, the line that the lieutenant governor is in charge of the weather. First he took credit for the pleasant evening, and then he said that U.S. Sen. Thomas R. Carper was missing the jamboree because he had gone to Florida for a Boy Scout outing and got stranded there by Hurricane Katrina.

"Thank God I'm not in charge of weather down there in Florida, where the lieutenant governor is" -- Carney paused dramatically -- "a Republican!"

Actually, the officeholders all seemed to be upbeat with the jamboree coming the day after the reprieve for the Delaware Air National Guard. The mood contributed to the ease with which the Democrats once again put off taking sides in the 2008 gubernatorial competition between Carney and Markell. Carney won his second term in 2004, and Markell will be running for his third in 2006.

"Jack will do for the next election. Then we'll go from there. Both of them have a lot of support," said state Senate President Pro Tem Thurman G. Adams Jr., a Bridgeville Democrat considered the voice of Sussex County.

Anyway, there was no need to be stressed about 2008 while the party was enjoying the prospect of a potential presidential candidacy for Joe Biden. His speech was a rehearsal of campaign themes.

While the other speakers wrestled with a fuzzy-sounding microphone, Biden jumped atop a picnic table and delivered from there. He spoke mostly about Iraq, insisting the U.S. still can prevail but predicting the end would come by late 2006, one way or another, either because Iraq was a stable nation or because that opportunity was squandered and lost.

"We're going to be out of there by the end of 2006," Biden said. "We may end up out of there the wrong way."

While he spoke, his grandchildren kicked around a soccer ball. No one is a prophet in his home, not even Joe Biden, not even at an event he owns.