Posted: Aug. 22, 2007


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

If Alan B. Levin is not running for governor, he certainly is doing some very suspicious jogging for it.

Levin, recently free of the Happy Harry's drug stores he sold to Walgreen's, is traipsing around Delaware as though he is the gubernatorial equivalent of Fred Thompson, the Republican shadow-candidate whose announcement for president, like prosperity, is just around the corner.

In the last half of this month, Levin's calendar was dotted with about a dozen political klatches.

Most of the gatherings were held in friendly Republican territory, like the one at the Brandywine Hundred home of Jan C. Ting, the 2006 senatorial candidate, but there was the occasional foray into less hospitable turf, like the visit to an Elsmere senior center where John Jaremchuk Jr., the local councilman who accompanied Levin, described the members as "Roosevelt Democrats."

Levin will not say whether he is running for governor. He will not even say when he will say whether he is running for governor. Instead, he is leaving it to others to mention, most assuredly on cue.

Jaremchuk did. "I'm trying to talk Alan into running for governor," he kept saying at the stop in Elsmere last week at the Oak Grove Senior Center.

So did James T. Bowers, a once-and-future Republican legislative candidate who hosted a get-together attended by about 40 people Tuesday evening in Brandywine Hundred. "This guy is very electable in my opinion. Now I don't know if he's going to run for office," Bowers slyly told the group.

The sense in political circles is that Levin will run, that every day Lt. Gov. John C. Carney Jr. and Treasurer Jack A. Markell draw closer to a Democratic primary for governor is a day that brings Levin closer to the race.

The Republicans have been on the rocks in this state, but nothing could revive them like a Democratic primary politically poisonous enough to jeopardize the party's 16-year hold on the governorship. It would not be the first time that the voters ditched two guys who were fighting each other and elected a third.

The Republicans appear to be treating Levin like the candidate who can lead them out of their gubernatorial wilderness. Bowers had registration forms available for new voters and for independents or Democrats willing to switch -- in case Michael D. Protack, that perennial party pooper, insists upon running for governor to force a Republican primary, as he did four years ago.

Levin is taking to politicking like a someone with a second chance. He left politics as the chief aide to U.S. Sen. William V. Roth Jr. to run Happy Harry's for 20 years after the death of "Happy Harry" Levin, his father who founded the pharmacy chain, but now he is back.

After all of that time in retail, Levin is fearless in mixing it up with voters.

At the senior center, he parried the guff from one man who has not been satisfied with any politician since Franklin Roosevelt by quipping, "I feel a little lighter in my butt. That guy took a big bite."

At Bowers' house, Levin was unfazed by a question about whether the "rednecks down there" in Sussex County would vote for him. Levin is Jewish. (So is Markell. Carney is Catholic.)

"I really think it's important from the beginning that religion be discussed, because it is an issue," Levin said. He said he has been welcomed in Sussex County and also took heart from his experience there with Happy Harry's, explaining what happened after an initial two-year stretch to get accepted. "We couldn't open stores fast enough. They knew who I was. They knew our history."

Levin is testing a message to persuade voters to break their habit of voting for Democratic governors. He stuck to laying the groundwork with the skeptical audience at the senior center -- "They've had it for 16 years" -- but was more forceful with the supportive crowd at Bowers' house.

"I am concerned about Delaware and where Delaware is going. Delaware has gotten out of whack. Our governor is coasting. What this governor has done is sweep everything under the rug," he said.

"It's not just the governor. She sets the tone. She's the one who determines where we go and how we go in this state. It's the lieutenant governor and all those underneath that follow suit. Nobody squawks. Nobody says, gee, governor, you made a mistake. They all go in lockstep. There's something wrong with that. We need people who are standing up and making Delaware better for the next generation."

His ending was catchy. "If I can paraphrase our name a little bit, I want to try to make Delaware happy again," he said.

It sounded like a campaign slogan -- if Levin was running for governor, of course.