Posted: Sept. 4, 2007


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

The Delaware Democrats traditionally are too impatient to wait for Labor Day as the unofficial start of the campaign season. They use their Sussex County Beach Jamboree, held a weekend earlier at Cape Henlopen State Park, to get going.

Usually the Democrats wait for an election year, but not this time.

There is so much at stake in 2008 -- with statewide openings for governor and lieutenant governor, as well as the mother of all political battles for control of the state House of Representatives -- that candidates squeezed their presence into the end of August as determinedly as people made those last trips to the beach.

It all pointed toward the Labor Day weekend, when the Republicans roused themselves, too. The Democrats did what they do best by marching alongside the rank-and-file in t-shirts with union labels, and the Republicans went with their forte by raising money among the beautiful people at the beach.

A lot of the pre-Labor Day flurry could be attributed to Jack and John.

Treasurer Jack A. Markell and Lt. Gov. John C. Carney Jr. drew their line in the sand, so to speak, at the beach jamboree in their contest for the Democratic nomination for governor, the most coveted office in the state, and just kept on going.

Markell, the sunniest of campaigners, proved it with a fair-weather bicycle ride he calls "Tour de Delaware." For the second year in a row, he pedaled northward through all three counties, this trip taking him from Selbyville to Wilmington.

Tour de Jack was a two-day ride, plumped up from the 119-mile trek he planned to 128 miles because of two detours, one for a safer road and another for a wrong turn. Markell was accompanied each day by about 10 cyclists, including state Sen. David P. Sokola, a Democratic ally who was inspired enough to add extra miles and accomplish his first back-to-back century rides of 100 miles each.

Markell says he cycles to promote healthy living and the state itself -- "You see the incredible beauty of Delaware. When you're on a bike, you see so much" -- but he is, after all, a politician, and it is hard not to think he also is injecting some Kennedy-style vigor into his candidacy, particularly because his rival for the nomination is a former All-Ivy League football player from Dartmouth.

Carney countered with a business-like week of no-nonsense politics. In keeping with his brisk tone at the jamboree -- "I'm ready to be the governor" -- he announced he had assembled a team of consultants, headed by David Hamrick of Hildebrand Tewes Consulting, based in Washington.

Hamrick has Delaware experience as the state Democrats' campaign coordinator for the 2000 election, when the party ran away with the governorship and won a battle of the titans as then-Gov. Thomas R. Carper ousted U.S. Sen. William V. Roth, a five-term Republican. Carney was elected lieutenant governor that year, too.

In addition, Carney picked up an early endorsement from a local Teamsters union. It issued a press release saying, "While both Democratic candidates have exceptional records in public office, we feel that Lt. Gov. Carney is the most experienced and qualified candidate for governor."

In the eight-day span from the jamboree to Labor Day, the Democrats also saw a potential congressional primary between Dennis Spivack and Christopher A. Bullock all but sort itself out.

Spivack, the 2006 nominee who was craving a rematch with U.S. Rep. Michael N. Castle, an eight-term Republican, conceded he was unlikely to have the financial backing he needed. Unless someone else comes along, it essentially cleared the way for Bullock, a Wilmington pastor who has not committed to run but is acting very much like a candidate, appearing early in the week at an anti-war rally that had Castle as its focus.

Castle himself used the Labor Day weekend to tend to his own campaign, swelling an already ample million-dollar treasury by taking in about $35,000 from an upscale reception held Saturday at Kings Creek Country Club in Rehoboth Beach. It was attended by more than 200 people, including Sherwood Boehlert, a Republican ex-congressman who retired to Kings Creek from New York.

Two days later, Castle was upstate in Wilmington for the Labor Day parade, plunging into an event that is heavily but not entirely Democratic. The unions are not what they used to be, but it still pays for politicians to try to stay on their good side. As Wilmington Mayor James M. Baker, a Democrat, once quipped, "The two best-organized groups in the country are Republicans and unions."

Every statewide officeholder was there, except for U.S. Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., who had a Democratic presidential campaign to run and was mingling with the Northwest Iowa Labor Council, and Gov. What's-Her-Name.

Carney had the honor of carrying the AFL-CIO banner that led the parade. Markell marched with the Delaware State Education Association. So did Insurance Commissioner Matthew P. Denn and Wilmington Council President Theodore Blunt, both Democratic candidates for lieutenant governor.

Bullock stepped out with the Building & Construction Trades Council, its contingent chanting robustly, "We are the Laborers, mighty, mighty Laborers." State House Minority Whip Helene M. Keeley, who is in the thick of the fight to elect a Democratic majority for the first time since 1982, marched with the state workers.

The parade had more participants than spectators, as union members ambled down King Street amid the occasional band. U.S. Sen. Thomas R. Carper, a Democrat whose record for statewide victories is not just luck, showed his political smarts by greeting the front of the parade, working his way back through the marchers by shaking hands, and then turning around to become the last man on the route to wave at the crowd.

State Democratic Chair John D. Daniello stood on the sidelines. He turned 2006 into a Democratic year largely because of a mammoth get-out-the-vote drive using union volunteers, and at the parade he looked very much like someone eying his next batch of recruits.

It was Labor Day, after all, time to crank up a new campaign, because there is no longer any such thing as an off-year.