Posted: Aug. 9, 2011


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

What a suspicious-looking lunch there was last week at the White Clay Country Club near Newark.

Terry Spence was the reason the political vapors were rising. Spence used to be the Republican speaker in the state House of Representatives until he lost his seat two elections ago, a how-ya-doin' type who still hangs around Legislative Hall in Dover as a low-octane lobbyist.

Spence was spotted at a table with Mike Harkins, one of the best political operatives the Republicans ever had. He was a secretary of state until he moved on to the Delaware River & Bay Authority, where he lived high until the feds closed in and he had to go away for a while.

Harkins has been back for five years and can be seen around town, especially on golf courses, exuberant as always. He is a friend of the vice president's, a pair of Irish-American politicians who go so far back that their party preference has been a non-issue forever, and various Republicans still turn to Harkins for campaign advice.

Spence and Harkins were sitting with someone unfamiliar to the political watchers who spied them. After a while, they were joined by Priscilla Rakestraw, the Republican national committeewoman.

Wow, the political back channels were churning.

As anyone remotely paying attention to Delaware politics knows, the Republicans are desperate for statewide candidates, particularly for someone to run for governor against Jack Markell, the Democrat up for a second term next year.

Spence certainly would not be out of the question, even if he did lose his own House district, where the voters know him best, not once but twice.  After 28 years, including 20 of them as speaker, he was ousted in 2008 and came up short when he tried for a comeback in 2010.

More to the point, in almost every year before a gubernatorial election, there is speculation that Spence will run for governor, most of it stoked by Spence himself.

It is like the return of the political locusts. By the time the campaign season really gets going, Spence's candidacy has died off every time.

He is an odd-numbered-year candidate for governor, only to drop down and file as usual for state representative. The farthest along he ever got was a Republican straw poll in January 2000.

Still, there is a difference now. Every time before, Spence had a House seat to lose, so maybe he could run for governor. He could do worse than talk it over with Harkins and Rakestraw in casual circumstances at the White Clay Country Club.

Oops. False alarm. The lunch was not what it might have been.

Spence was there to meet with a businessman, an innocent bystander who has nothing to do with state politics, and invited Harkins along. Rakestraw ran into them in the course of her work for the Delaware Breast Cancer Coalition, where she is the development director.

It was just one of those typical coincidences in a small state where everyone knows everyone else, or at least they think they do.

"I was there for a business luncheon involving the Delaware Breast Cancer Coalition and happened to see two friends sitting there. I just went to say hello. I never miss an opportunity to find out what's happening with Mike Harkins and Terry Spence," Rakestraw said.

"It's Delaware. I never expected my table-hopping to be reported back to the other party and to Delaware Grapevine. But it's a good place to eat."

So Spence is not even an odd-numbered-year candidate for governor. He is an odd-man out.