Posted: Sept. 29, 2014


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

Joe Biden always did take care of Sussex County, and Sussex has taken care of him.

Sussex voters were a little skeptical the first time he ran in for the U.S. Senate in 1972, as a 29-year-old Democratic upstart from upstate when he lost the county by 59 votes, but he persisted in wooing them and it has been nothing but romance since.

Even in 2008, when the most southern and most conservative of Delaware's three counties was resoundingly rejecting Barack Obama for president and by extension his vice president, too, Biden still won the Sussex vote for the seventh Senate term he was not destined to serve.

The affection was all there again on Sunday afternoon, when Jill Biden carried the family banner to Long Neck in Sussex County for a campaign event.

It was fitting it was Jill and not Joe, because the sponsor was the Sussex Women's Democratic Club, and the idea was to promote five Democratic women who are running against sitting Republican officeholders in the county.

They called the event "Chill with Jill at the Grill," that being the Paradise Grill, where about 250 people crowded outside at the bayside bar, with a warm sun overhead and packed sand underfoot.

"Good afternoon, Sussex County, it's really good to be home," Jill Biden said to applause and whoops of welcome. "I hope you all know how special you are to the Bidens."

The candidates she came to stump for were: Marie Mayor against Steve Smyk and a minor-party candidate for state representative; Shirley Price against George Cole for a County Council seat; Paulette Rappa against Ruth Briggs King for state representative; Alma Roach against Scott Daily for recorder of deeds; and Claire Snyder-Hall against Ernie Lopez for state senator.

Brenda Mayrack, the only woman on the Democrats' statewide ticket, also got a shout-out. She is running against Tom Wagner, the Republican auditor.

Nobody should have been surprised that Tom Carper, the Democratic senator, showed up, too, even though he is not up this year and was not on the program.

Carper cannot help it. Forget gravity. Forget love. The most powerful attraction in the universe is between Tom Carper and a voter's handshake.

Mitch Crane, the Sussex Democratic chair, said as much as he welcomed Jill Biden.

"It's a big deal for Joe Biden to come to Sussex, it's a big deal for Beau Biden to come to Sussex, it's a big deal for Tom Carper to be here all the time, but it's a bigger deal to have the honor of introducing Dr. Jill Biden," Crane said.

Security was delightfully common sense. No metal detectors, no snipers spotted on rooftops, no gunboats on the bay, just a small Secret Service detail in casual attire and the usual rigamarole to see that everybody paid $35 to get in.

Jill Biden spoke about a sisterhood of women lifting up other women. She invoked a local memory of Mildred Tunnell, a Sussex Countian who became the first Democratic woman to serve in the General Assembly when she was elected a state representative in 1954.

That was the first election the state used voting machines, instead of paper ballots, and Tunnell hauled around a 20-pound model to show voters how to choose candidates in this new and intimidating mechanized fashion.

Biden said Tunnell won by 34 votes -- "you see, every vote does count."

It was clear throughout the event how much the Bidens have intertwined in the lives of Delawareans.

Jill Biden, who is undoubtedly the most famous community college professor in history, spied an old colleague from her early teaching days at Concord High, and Crane recalled an occasion, a time long ago in 1971, when he was the president of the Chester County Young Democrats across the line in Pennsylvania and hosted a rookie New Castle County councilman getting ready to run for senator.

"I didn't see how this young guy was going to accomplish anything," Crane quipped.

It should have been a lesson for the Sussex Democrats. They live in a county where the vote is as Republican as the statewide vote is Democratic, and the odds are against the five candidates who were being showcased.

Still, Joe Biden cracked an all-Republican congressional delegation in what was a Republican state when he won in 1972, and then four years after that in 1976, the treasurer's race went to another unsung Democrat who was not supposed to win, some guy named Carper, and the Delaware Democrats were on their way to what they are today. Political miracles never cease.