Posted: Dec. 9, 2003


By Celia Cohen

Grapevine Political Writer

Delaware Republicans rolled out their heavy political artillery on Tuesday as they announced the leadership of President George W. Bush's re-election campaign here, throwing the likes of U.S. Rep. Michael N. Castle, a former FBI director and the president's first cousin into a mobilization to put the state back into the Republican column in 2004.

All told, the Republicans blasted out a roll call of 61 names as the Delaware command council for Bush-Cheney '04 -- a showing that could turn out to be not so much overkill as necessity in what is promising to be an intense struggle for the state's meager three electoral votes.

Bush lost here in 2000, outpolled 55 percent to 42 percent by Al Gore Jr., with the rest of the vote going to other candidates, and his state campaign was being launched the day after Terry McAuliffe, the Democratic national chairman, came in to promise his party was determined to win here again in what he predicted would be a close election.

Castle, who is chairing the president's Delaware organization, agreed with McAuliffe's assessment of Delaware as a battleground state, if not on the desired outcome.

"I do believe it will be a close election in Delaware," Castle said. "I thought the Gore people ran a pretty good campaign here, and it was a pretty Democratic year in Delaware. That happened, and frankly, that makes this a state where we're going to fight very hard to be competitive."

Still, Castle liked the odds. "It's very different when you're an incumbent," he said.

On a day Gore delivered his stunning endorsement of former Vermont Gov. Howard B. Dean for president, Castle ventured to forecast that Dean would be the president's Democratic opponent. "The others are just not measuring up," he said.

Team Bush was presented at the Wyndham Garden Hotel in Wilmington at a news event. It was billed as a press conference, but it bore little resemblance to the standard. Instead, four reporters were outnumbered by 30 or so Republicans who only took questions informally afterwards.

It was not exactly as choreographed as the commander-in-chief in a flight suit on an aircraft carrier, but Castle acknowledged the event did follow a format. In front of a blue and white Bush-Cheney backdrop, Castle focused on what he regarded as three of Bush's accomplishments -- security, education and the economy -- and showcased a speaker on each.

Two of the speakers were the only minorities among the Delaware Republicans who were there. Marilyn P. Whittington, an African-American who is the executive director of the Delaware Humanities Forum, commended Bush for his efforts on education. Jan C. Ting, a Chinese-American who is a law professor at Temple University, praised the president for his handling of taxes and the economy.

"It's important to get a balance of the community," Castle said.

The third speaker, who discussed security, was Louis J. Freeh, the former FBI director now with MBNA, where outgoing president Charles M. Cawley is a "Ranger," someone collecting at least $200,000 for the president's campaign.

Cawley himself was not listed on the Delaware leadership roster. Others who were included: Betsy Walker Field, who is the president's cousin; William Swain Lee, the Republican gubernatorial candidate; and Tubby Raymond, the retired University of Delaware football coach, who did not attend.

The news event was the Delaware Republicans' first major foray into presidential politics, which the state Democrats largely have had to themselves as they try to sort out their preferences in a jostling, nine-candidate field. The Democrats will be going to the polls Feb. 3 for the state's presidential primary, which the Republicans are skipping because there is no question about their nominee.

Still, the Republicans showed they intend to be heard from. Their event seemed to be a political spinoff of Bush's education bill, "No Child Left Behind." Call it "No State Left Behind."