Posted: Sept. 26, 2005


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

Autumn of an odd-numbered year is as static as Delaware politics gets. The last election is a year behind, and the next one is a year ahead.

It is a season for trying to make things happen and for cutting corners, knowing not much will be noticed, so it can get a little odd out there.

The Republicans did their part earlier this month. They staged a little rally in Rodney Square in Wilmington in favor of Judge John G. Roberts Jr., the nominee for chief  justice, and then sent an emissary or two to U.S. Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr.'s office, a block or so away, to make their case to the opposing Democratic camp.

The event was strictly political theatre. The Republicans called ahead to Biden's staff to say they were coming, and John M. DiEleuterio, the senator's state director, agreed to meet them.

Reporters were invited, which led to a surreal scene of the Republicans videotaping a television camera crew videotaping the Republicans.

At Biden's office, DiEleuterio came to the door to greet Terry A. Strine, the Republican state chairman, and William Swain Lee, the retired judge and former gubernatorial candidate who is the party's Sussex County chairman.

Afterwards, DiEleuterio called the Republicans "nice and responsible." Lee called DiEleuterio "gracious." Strine called the entire exchange "amicable."

It was as pleasant as it could be. The Republicans passed along some petitions supporting Roberts. Naturally they turned out to be little more than stage props, as Biden later voted against the nomination in the Senate Judiciary Committee. It led Lee to quip, "They accepted the petitions in the spirit they were given."

DiEleuterio, making conversation, asked how many people the Republicans had at their rally.

"About 3,000," Strine said promptly.

"My office overlooks Rodney Square. I counted more like 40," DiEleuterio said.

Lee was laughing. He thought the Republicans might have had 50 people, but he conceded that DiEleuterio's estimate was close enough. After all, Biden's office is on the 20th floor.

Give Strine credit for trying. Now if only he could swell the Republican voter registration the way he can inflate a crowd . . .

# # #

Not long after the little bipartisan skit at Biden's office, there was a bipartisan press release issued by the state's congressional delegation.

This in itself was not unusual. Biden and Thomas R. Carper, the Democratic senators, and Michael N. Castle, the Republican representative, get along so well that they often issue combined releases, instead of competing for attention on matters of mutual interest. In this instance, they were commenting favorably on a $12 million fine imposed on Motiva Enterprises for a fatal explosion four years ago in Delaware City.

A joint release typically contains a statement from Biden, a statement from Carper and a statement from Castle. This one, however, simply offered a quotation from "the Delegation."

It was enough to wonder what sort of creature "the Delegation" would look like. It would have to have three heads. Biden's head would be on the left, but how would the other two be arranged?

The Republican typically would go on the right, but this Republican is Castle. In the last session of the Congress, he was one of the top 10 Republicans in the House of Representatives to vote against his party leadership, according to Congressional Quarterly, and Carper was in the top 10 Democrats in the Senate to do the same.

"The Delegation" must have Biden's head on the left, Castle's in the center, and Carper's on the right. No wonder the Republican Party has trouble winning in this state.

# # #

Last and certainly least, there is Michael D. Protack. He is the Republican who has stalked high office so often, it is probably entitled to police protection.

Protack has put his name out there for the U.S. Senate, governor and state party chairman, not taking "go away" as an answer, and he is currently on his second round for the Senate when Carper is up next year.

Recently Protack decided to take a survey. A question he asked about the Republican Party deserves a place in political lore: "Do you feel that we can keep doing things the same old way and expect to win or do we need a new playbook and a statewide candidate who has cross-over appeal?"

It may be the first time a survey question could be answered, "Well, yes and no." Or "no and yes." Or perhaps most accurately, "huh?"

Somehow Protack says the response was 59 percent yes, 28 percent no, and 13 percent unsure, who apparently were the only people paying attention.

It all adds up to a total of 100 percent confusion.