Posted: Aug. 18, 2006


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

The Republicans on Thursday renewed their obsession with the date Beau Biden became a Delaware lawyer.

They staged a rally in Newark for Ferris W. Wharton, their candidate for attorney general, and charged a four-dollar admission in a satiric reference to the four-year admission that Biden, the Democratic candidate, can claim as a member of the state bar.

The Republicans have used this gimmick before, notably at an event they held on June 1 to try to upstage Biden on the day he declared his candidacy in the traditional swing through all three counties.

Perhaps they could come out of these gatherings a little ahead if the admission went for $27, representing the years since Wharton was sworn in, but clearly the money was not the point. The ridicule was.

"He's a nice guy, but I don't think he's ready for this job," Wharton said.

Biden, 37, was admitted to the bar here on May 31, 2002, but he has been practicing law longer than that, even if the Republicans try to wipe his earlier experience away like the 18th Century French revolutionaries who reordered the calendar as "Year 1" when they came to power.

Since graduating from Syracuse law school in 1994, Biden has clerked for a federal judge and worked as a federal prosecutor in Philadelphia before entering private practice in Wilmington. He is also a JAG captain in the Delaware National Guard, which he joined three years ago.

Wharton, 53, has a resume that is solid on its own merits without belittling Biden. Until he left government for politics, Wharton spent 26 years as a state and federal prosecutor, rising to chief deputy attorney general before departing for the U.S. Attorney's Office in 2003.

The four-dollar admission bought pizza and a 15-minute stump speech from Wharton at a VFW Post behind the Newark Municipal Building. There were about 50 people, a modest crowd, not bad for a weeknight in August, although the campaign violated the political rule of never arranging for a room too big to fill so the turnout cannot be described as "a modest crowd, not bad for a weeknight in August."

Wharton kept to the theme of the evening -- "Background, qualifications and experience matter" -- and made his point by rattling off a list of cases he had prosecuted involving hair-raising sexual assaults in Newark.

He was reinforced by other speakers dismissing Biden as a legacy candidate who would be nothing if not for his father-the-senator.

"I think this is one of the most important races Delaware has seen in a long time," said state Rep. Stephanie A. Ulbrich, a Newark Republican. "If someone like Beau Biden, who just has a name, can get elected, then shame on us all."

The rally coincided with the day the Republicans rolled out a new radio spot to pump life into their debate about debates, accusing Biden of refusing to go one-on-one with Wharton. "Maybe Beau Biden won't debate because his experience just doesn't compare," it says.

Biden, however, has not refused to debate, but refused to debate yet. He is scheduled to appear Sept. 14, two days after the primary election, at the Jewish Community Center in Talleyville for the joint candidates' forum that traditionally opens the state's fall campaign season.

Debates on debates tend to be meaningless issues that evaporate once the candidates engage. There was one time, however, that the debate on debates was stopped cold.

Former Gov. Sherman W. Tribbitt, a Democrat who was turned out of office in 1976, was trying to make a comeback in 1984. A hardware store owner who mangled the pronunciation of "fiscal" into "physical," Tribbitt was running in a Democratic primary against William T. Quillen, a former Supreme Court justice with a Harvard law degree.

Quillen hounded Tribbitt to debate, but it ended when Tribbitt said he would not -- because he would lose. "Justice Quillen is driven by the desire to prove that his lawyer's style is better than my manner of speaking. I know my strengths, and that's why I am sticking to going to the voters," Tribbitt said.

Tribbitt lost the primary, but he won the debate on debates.