Posted: April 17, 2004


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

James P. Ursomarso, a member of the Wilmington car dealership family with impeccable Republican ties, is expected to be introduced Monday evening at a party meeting as the candidate whom William Swain Lee, the leading candidate for governor, wants to run for lieutenant governor.

Lee's search for a running mate came to focus on Ursomarso only during the last week, but it quickly was finalized and flashed through Republican circles, even if the principals involved are trying to keep it quiet until they are ready with an official announcement.

In interviews Saturday, both Lee and Ursomarso were circumspect, although they acknowledged that they planned to be present Monday for a meeting of the Brandywine Region, one of the seven regions of the state Republican Party.

Lee said, "This is still unofficial. I have made a decision."

Ursomarso said, "I understand Judge Bill Lee has made a decision, and he intends to announce it early next week. I have a great deal of respect for Bill Lee. I'm flattered if I'm considered."

Ursomarso is expected to supplant Kelly L. Gates and Tyler P. Nixon, both seeking the Republican nomination for lieutenant governor as free agents. Lee has made clear all along that he intends to select his own running mate, and there is backing within the party leadership for him to do so.

If everything falls into place as expected, Lee and Ursomarso would face the Democratic ticket of Gov. Ruth Ann Minner and Lt. Gov. John C. Carney Jr. Although Delaware elects its governor and lieutenant governor separately, the candidates in recent years have campaigned as the functional equivalent of tickets.

Ursomarso was not the first to be offered a spot as Lee's running mate, according to Republicans familiar with the search. An earlier invitation was extended unsuccessfully to state Rep. Deborah D. Hudson, who would have been a curious choice.

While Hudson is regarded as a talented legislator who could have brought gender balance to the ticket, she was once married to the brother of Thomas J. Capano, whose sensational murder trial catapulted Lee from a judgeship back to his first love of politics.

By settling on Ursomarso now, Lee made good on a promise to find a running mate some weeks before the Republican state convention in mid-May, when the party votes on statewide endorsements. No candidate is bound by the endorsement and may proceed to the primary election on Sept. 11, when the nominations will be decided.

Lee also promised to find someone who would add to his own candidacy, and he likely has -- perhaps bringing some extra attention from the Republican presidential ticket because of Ursomarso's family ties.

Ursomarso's father is Frank A. Ursomarso, who is best known locally for the Union Park car dealerships he runs, but nationally he is close to Vice President Richard B. Cheney from their days working in the White House for President Gerald Ford. When the Republicans held their national convention in Philadelphia in 2000, Cheney stayed with Frank Ursomarso at his Chadds Ford home.

Jim Ursomarso has been the chairman of the Wilmington Region Republicans since 2002, and he served as the executive director of George W. Bush's 2000 primary campaign for Delaware. His law degree from Duke University can do nothing but endear him to Lee, whose fondness for Duke as his alma mater is as much a part of him as the Capano trial.

In the small world that is politics, Ursomarso will wind up with some sort of connection, although perhaps a tenuous one, to the White House no matter who is elected president. He was a summer intern in 1989 for U.S. Sen. John Heinz, the Pennsylvania Republican who died in a plane crash in 1991, leaving behind his wife Teresa, now Teresa Heinz Kerry.