Posted: Aug. 26, 2013


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

The other guy who is a prime Democratic candidate for governor had the microphone to himself.

Except all that people kept talking about was Beau.

It was the annual Sussex County Democratic Beach Jamboree, held Saturday on a magnificent summer afternoon under a pavilion at Cape Henlopen State Park, an event that is etched into the Delaware political calendar like the Democrats' Jefferson-Jackson dinner or the Republicans' Salute at Vicmead.

The jamboree in election years marks the stretch run of the campaigns, and in off years, it is the place for Democrats to float out possible candidacies.

It is only 2013. There is still an election to come in 2014. Never mind. Politics abhors a vacuum, and the state has to find a new governor in 2016, so as sure as the sun and the sand and the sea breeze infused the jamboree, so did the inklings about the next race for the most highly-prized political office in Delaware.

Needless to say, the speculation among Democrats has been trending toward Beau Biden, the attorney general with the famous father, but after his side trip to Houston last week, it was a jolt to remember that life takes twists and turns and by the way, other candidates are out there.

So there stood Matt Denn, a three-time statewide winner, first as the insurance commissioner and now as the second-term lieutentent governor, a realistic governor-in-waiting.

It stirred up thoughts of a parallel time in 2005. Back then, the Democrats at the jamboree were in the early stages of fretting if they could sort out the building rivalry for governor in 2008 between Jack Markell, who was the treasurer, and John Carney, who was the lieutenant governor.

That one took the party until 2010 to put right, after Markell beat Carney in a primary and won the governorship in 2008 but Carney got elected congressman two years later.

As if to accentuate the upcoming developments, Markell was a no-show for the jamboree. He took vacation, instead. It fell to Denn to bring greetings from the governor and a reminder that someday those greetings could be coming in person from himself.

Denn has had a good year. In a legislative session that brought frustration about the state's efforts to create more jobs, he was behind the one bill credited with improving the business climate by reforming the workers compensation system. He also won praise at the jamboree for the way he presided over the Senate debate about gay marriage.

Denn did what political standard bearers at partisan events do. Before a crowd of about 200 Democrats, he panned the other party.

"Democrats have done well in this state, and I would like to say that it's only because we've done a good job, and we have done a good job, by the way. Delaware people pay attention to what their elected officials do," Denn said.

"On top of that, I have to tell you that the Republican Party seems to be doing its part to make it easier to win elections," he said, noting the national Republican positions on voting rights, reproductive rights, gay rights and immigration.

"I actually feel a little bit guilty about being here. I'm a proud Democrat, as you know, but I'm also a straight white guy, so I'm pretty much all the Republicans have got left," Denn quipped.

Until last week, there was no thought about what the 2013 jamboree would turn out to be remembered for.

It is believed to be the only one in 40 years without a Biden attending. Joe Biden and now Beau Biden customarily gathered up the family and brought them along -- an intertwining jumble of wives, husbands, sisters, brothers, mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, aunts, uncles, cousins, grandsons and granddaughters, depending on the way who was related to whom.

Joe Biden made it to the jamboree the year he survived two brain aneurysms in 1988. He also managed it, flying here and back by helicopter in a rainstorm, even though it meant parting for some hours from his father's side two days before he died in 2002.

Not this year, not after Beau Biden's medical scare and the nothing-to-see-here-folks press releases that guaranteed the Biden absence would be a presence.

"I all but expected the vice president and our attorney general might actually show up today, and I was hoping that would be the case. They're certainly in our thoughts and our prayers," Carney said.

Jamboree by jamboree, state politics changes. Even the food was evidence of that.

Here in Sussex County, the proud home of the chicken dinner, the Democrats thoughtfully provided fare for vegetarians, too.