Posted: Aug. 27, 2012


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

The people who went to the Sussex County Democratic Jamboree sounded a lot like a bunch of strangers trying to make conversation in a doctor's waiting room. They fell back on the old stand-bys of the weather and their health.

Notably Tom Carper's health.

Hurricanes were probably the most popular topic. The jamboree, always held the weekend before the long Labor Day weekend at Cape Henlopen State Park, was canceled last year as Hurricane Irene battered the Delaware coast, and the one this year took place Saturday as the Republicans braced for a rendezvous with Isaac at Tampa.

Besides, the beaches were getting smacked by a serious storm as the Democrats met amid the sand dunes, happily snug under a pavilion, even if not all of the 225 people who had tickets bothered to come.

Never let it be said there is a topic known to humankind that cannot be politicized, weather included.

"There's a storm bearing down on Tampa, I understand. Actually I heard in the news Mitt Romney was relieved the hurricane was going to miss the Cayman Islands. Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also," Chris Coons, the Democratic senator, cracked to general amusement.

The Democrats could hardly be merrier at the jamboree, which is their way of kicking off the high campaign season. It goes with having a political lock on the state with the governor and the lieutenant governor, all three members of the congressional delegation and control of the General Assembly, not to mention the Republicans have yet to demonstrate they can mount a threat.

Nothing seemed to be fazing the Democrats, not even the dark comments last month from Alex Pires, the flamboyant lawyer who is trying to turn his celebrity ownership of the Bottle & Cork, the boisterous nightspot in Dewey Beach, into an independent run for the Senate against Tom Carper.

Pires accused Carper, the two-term Democratic senator who has also been the governor, the congressman and the treasurer, of hiding serious health issues that make him unfit for office.

Carper took the microphone at the jamboree to respond as only Carper can.

"Some of you, as I've been walking around, you've been asking about my health. I'm going to run down to the Bottle & Cork and knock off about 100 pushups. I feel good," Carper quipped. "There's plenty left in the tank."

The happiest Democrat at this soggy jamboree might have been John Carney, the congressman.

Part of it was because Carney was no longer the lieutenant governor and the butt of the inevitable jokes about the lieutenant governor being in charge of the weather, but more of it was because it was not four years ago.

In 2008 Carney came to the jamboree embedded in an emotionally searing primary that would ultimately make Jack Markell the next governor and leave Carney himself sidelined for two years, until he went to the Congress.

That primary was the most wrenching for the Democrats in a generation, but Markell and Carney never let it fester. Their mutual graciousness is a prime reason the Democrats are so predominant today, as opposed to the Republicans, who are still stewing in the bitter grievances of their Senate primary between Mike Castle and Christine O'Donnell from two years ago.

"As I was standing in the food line, the governor's lovely wife Carla came up to me, and she said, do you remember when we came here four years ago, how tense it was?" Carney told the crowd.

"I don't like to remember that night, but it turned out OK, I think for all of us, and I think for the state, more importantly. . . .

This has never been about the candidates. This is about the people we work for."