Posted: Aug. 11, 2009


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

Joe Booth is having a "Thank You" party for his election to the state Senate. It also looks a lot like a "No Thanks to You" party.

The scheduling is a little suspicious.

People are invited to celebrate on Saturday, Aug. 29, in Georgetown. The timing steps all over the Crab Feast & Watermelon Extravaganza hosted the same day at Trap Pond State Park by Vance Phillips, a fellow Sussex County Republican who is the county council president.

It is not as though the feast & extravaganza could have been overlooked. It is the 14th annual.

Ask Booth or Phillips about the conflicting schedule, and they will brush it off. Booth insists the date was the only Saturday open on his calendar between the special election and the rush of back-to-school and football season. Phillips makes a big deal out of Booth's event starting an hour after his, so people could go to each one.

Sure, guys. Just like that South Carolina governor went hiking on the Appalachian trail.

There is no such thing as a coincidence in politics. There are only politicians trying to fool enough of the people enough of the time to get away with enough stuff. Besides, the smirks and wisecracks in Republican circles say something certainly is going on here.

"I am a big fan of the brush back pitch," one Republican quipped.

The bumping began with the special election. Booth, a state representative since 2002 and an ex-mayor of Georgetown, was the runaway winner with 63 percent of the vote in a four-candidate race Aug. 3 to replace the late Thurman Adams, a Bridgeville Democrat who was the Senate's president pro tem.

Booth trounced Polly Adams Mervine, the Democrat who was Adams' daughter with 30 percent of the vote, as well as two minor-party candidates -- Matt Opaliski, a Republican who ran on the Independent Party of Delaware with 408 votes, and Wendy Jones, a Libertarian with 56 votes.

Throughout the abbreviated campaign, there was intense speculation that Phillips was on Opaliski's side, and Opaliski was making Booth's campaign nervous.

Typically minor-party candidates do not amount to much, but Opaliski was regarded as the most conservative candidate in the most conservative of Delaware's three counties, not to mention that he had polled 22 percent of the vote against Adams in 2006.

With turnout notoriously low in special elections -- this one drew slightly more than a quarter of the voters -- the Republicans fretted that Opaliski might undermine Booth, particularly if the race turned out to be close.

Then Booth won in a blowout, and there was only one thing for the relieved Republicans to do. Gloat. Never mind that Opaliski and Phillips protested they were not in cahoots.

Opaliski said it was news to him. "I guess there is some sentiment out there that some 'rogue Republicans' came and got me to run. I don't carry anybody's water," he said.

Phillips said he sat the election out. "The mere fact that I was absent, my enthusiasm for politics in the past may have gotten me the reputation of someone who has to be in the middle of things," he said. "This [special election] hit in July. It's my watermelon season. Politics has to take a back seat."

Whatever happened, whether Phillips was with Opaliski or on the sidelines, Republican leaders are not exactly crying over the timing of the "Thank You" party with the way it could whack the Crab Feast & Watermelon Extravaganza.

"Oh, is that a coincidence!" said Tom Ross, the Republican state chair. He laughed.

"It's a thank-you for the people who participated, so that shouldn't be a conflict at all," cracked Priscilla Rakestraw, the Republican national committeewoman.

As much as Booth has to thank people for, this election did not do any favors for his legislative paycheck. He took a cut. He still will get the base pay, currently at $41,680 a year for representatives and senators, but he loses an extra stipend of $9,385 he was collecting as a House member on the Joint Finance Committee.

Money was not everything, anyway. Phillip's feast & extravaganza? Thirty dollars. Booth's party? Free. Paybacks? Priceless.