Posted: Aug. 3, 2007


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

Political events have been known to be canceled because of a lack of interest, but in a rare twist, one in Sussex County just had to be canceled because of too much interest.

It points to how much the Delaware Republicans are starved for a worthwhile candidate for governor to go up against Lt. Gov. John C. Carney Jr. or Treasurer Jack A. Markell, whoever wins the nomination on the Democratic side.

The event that was canceled was not supposed to be notable, let alone balloon out of control.

Alan B. Levin, the Republican who is thinking about running for governor after freeing himself from running Happy Harry's, is test-driving his candidacy by making the usual rounds to party meetings. One of them was scheduled for this coming Tuesday in Rehoboth Beach.

Mary Spicer, the local Republican chair, figured 30 or 40 people would come to hear Levin and booked a room in a community center to accommodate slightly more. To drum up a little publicity, she did what a lot of Republicans do. She asked A. Judson Bennett to put the word out.

Bennett, a Lewes Republican, runs the Coastal Conservative Network, a vast list of 4,000 e-mail addresses. He sends out whatever suits him -- he is big on anti-Clinton jokes -- forwarding along news stories, press releases, meeting notices, patriotic sayings and the periodic "Jud's Rant," usually railing about overgrowth in Sussex County or illegal immigration.

The invitation to meet with Levin was sent Monday to 4,000 of Bennett's closest friends. It asked people to let Spicer know if they planned to attend, and soon her e-mail box was swelling like something on steroids. In two days Spicer was begging Bennett to tell his network that the event was so oversubscribed, it had to be canceled.

"It took on a life of its own," Spicer said. "I began to have responses from zillions of people. I had a small location set up. The man doesn't even know if he is going to run."

It says something that Spicer was inundated despite a political dirty trick.

After Bennett e-mailed the invitation, he agreed to forward information he was given to undercut Levin's appeal among Republicans -- campaign finance records showing in recent years he contributed $1,500 to U.S. Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. and $1,000 to U.S. Sen. Thomas R. Carper, token amounts by political standards for the Democratic members of the state's three-member congressional delegation.

Not surprisingly, it made no difference. Levin already has made clear he is no lock-stepper. As the chair of the Delaware State Chamber of Commerce, he agreed to team with Samuel E. Lathem, a Democratic loyalist who is the president of the Delaware AFL-CIO, to plan a gigantic statewide fund-raiser, perhaps at Frawley Stadium in Wilmington, for Biden's favorite-son presidential campaign.

Levin has the look of someone on his way to becoming a political phenomenon.

"It's curiosity, plus there's a constituency that wants to vote Republican, and we really want to believe we can win, and we want to see if Alan can make us believe," said William Swain Lee, the retired judge who was the Republican candidate for governor in 2004.

Levin, who spent time as the chief of staff for U.S. Sen. William V. Roth Jr. before taking over the drug store chain founded by his father, has a retailer's appreciation for the outpouring of political interest in Sussex County.

"I think it's great. It's like putting an ad out and expecting 10 and getting 1,000," he said.

Lee, who lives in Rehoboth Beach, believes his fellow Republicans may have missed something by not going ahead with an event bursting its bounds. "I never had that problem," he quipped. "We would have loved to have a well-covered media event with with too many people to get them all in."

The time will come, Spicer says, when Levin gets to meet at the beach with local Republicans.

But it will be a secret.