Posted: Aug. 9, 2016


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

There is so much competition right now, it can be confusing to sort out what is what.

Along with Olympic gymnastics, beach volleyball, soccer, swimming and so on, there was an Olympic debate in the Democratic primary for Delaware's next lieutenant governor.

At least it seemed like an Olympic debate. All of those fantastic gymnasts in Rio had nothing on the slick moves the candidates were trying out.

Granted, the bar was set a lot lower for the candidates. Some of them still had trouble with it.

Ready to rumble in the all-Democratic candidates' forum, which was hosted Monday evening by WDEL, was a bunch of local elected officeholders wanting to go statewide: Brad Eaby, a Kent County Levy Court commissioner; Bethany Hall-Long, a state senator; Kathy McGuiness, a Rehoboth Beach commissioner; Ciro Poppiti, the New Castle County register of wills; and Sherry Dorsey Walker, a Wilmington councilwoman.

Also Greg Fuller, who was once appointed the Sussex County register of wills to fill a vacancy without ever getting elected on his own, but never mind, he came across as a sweet candidate, anyway.

There was no participation in the debate from La Mar Gunn, the Republican candidate for lieutenant governor. Apparently he was not allowed to compete, not even under the Olympic flag.  

The competition started out kind of backwards. Allan Loudell, the WDEL news anchor who was the moderator, came on to open the hour-long event, and before anything else happened, he stuck the landing. He did it by sticking it to the candidates with his first question.

It was the classic lieutenant governor conundrum. Is this office useless?

After all, the office has sat abandoned for nearly two years, ever since Matt Denn left it to get himself elected mid-term as the Democratic attorney general, and nobody -- not the delegates who wrote the state constitution nor the legislators who could have amended it over the next 119 years -- bothered to come up with a way to fill it.

Loudell's question got all of the candidates to blink. They collectively sprang into a spirited round of "Synchronized Dodging" with Olympic gusto. Here are the results.

Synchronized Dodging, Gold Medal. To Poppiti, for inflating the office like the bladder of bloated bagpipes, as he insisted he personally would find wondrous powers there. He declared, "As Archimedes said, give me a place to stand and I can move the world!"

Synchronized Dodging, Silver Medal. To Eaby, for a legalized sidestep by replying, "It's required by the constitution, so it has to be filled." Duh.

The next event was "Political Gymnastics." There was only one finalist, because there was only one candidate who had to explain why she was for the death penalty before she was against it. The other candidates backed its repeal all along, and they were recently vindicated by the state Supreme Court, which threw out the state statute as unconstitutional.

Political Gymnastics, Gold Medal. To Hall-Long, who voted twice as a state senator against repeal and resorted to trying this high-degree-of-difficulty backflip to get herself in line with the others: "Including myself, this position has evolved. What we have to support [is] the constitution, what they have upheld with the court. For me, it's also about not opening up capital punishment again."

As the forum moved along, the candidates were given a chance to engage in a competition that is an old Delaware favorite. It is the "C & D Canal Straddle," which requires new statewide candidates to try to be all things to all people, upstate and downstate.

C & D Canal Straddle, Gold Medal. To Poppiti, who was so determined to show his love for the entire state, he all but asked for a group sing-a-long of "Our Delaware." He nailed the top honors with his statement, "We're not north or south . . .we're all one Delaware," a description so breathtakingly sycophantic, most of the other candidates appropriated it.

Here is McGuiness: "We are Delaware. We are one."

Ditto for Fuller: "One state, one people."

C & D Canal Straddle, Silver Medal. To Hall-Long, who vaulted into a triple twist to land herself in all three counties, as she pointed out she is a state senator who represents New Castle County, but she used to be a state representative with a district that took in part of Kent County, but she is also a Sussex County native who went to high school there.

All together now: From New Castle's rolling meadows/Through the fair rich fields of Kent/To the Sussex shores hear echoes . . .

No competition would be complete without a good sportsmanship award.

Mr. Congeniality, Gold Medal. To Fuller, who excelled in a lightning round in which everyone was asked to pull a question out of a hat. Fuller got one that asked what his favorite Delaware hangout was, and he quipped, "I think it's with these five." So what if it is true or not? It was gracious.

Before all was said and done, some of the candidates did themselves in with some serious deductions on style points. Poppiti, for one. Hall-Long, for another.

More than once, Poppiti spoke of himself in the third person -- "The lieutenant governor candidate, this person, can actually do something" -- which is bad form. He also deserved to be docked for excessive pandering for mentioning the Philadelphia Phillies and then adding, "You can listen to them on WDEL all summer long!"

Hall-Long lost style points with a blast e-mail she sent afterwards to pat herself on the back for her performance and to highlight her endorsements, including one that was said to be from the New Castle County "Deomcratic Exeuctive" Committee.

This, from someone who wants to be a "Deomcratic" officeholder in the "exeuctive" branch?

What an unforced error. It is not every candidate who can get through a debate all right and then blow it in the spelling bee.

This competition is not over. Nobody will really know who won until Primary Day, Sept. 13, although there might be a sneaking suspicion about who did not.

John Carney. He has to run with one of them.