Posted: Feb. 23, 2004; updated: Feb. 24, 2004


By Celia Cohen

Grapevine Political Writer

State Rep. David H. Ennis told his fellow Brandywine Hundred Republicans on Monday evening he is considering a run for insurance commissioner as a replacement for Donna Lee Williams, the three-term Republican who stunned the party leadership when she announced last month she was getting out of politics.

Ennis, a legislator since 1980, did not commit to the race, saying only that he was forming an exploratory committee and would finalize his decision after the Republican state convention in May, when the party votes on endorsements.

Ennis arrived at the meeting, attended by more than 50 people at the Brandywine Town Center, with a press release ready to distribute about his announcement.

"It is my intent to use the next several months to gauge party and financial support," it said. "My 24 years in the Delaware General Assembly, 14 of which were spent chairing the House Banking & Insurance Committee, have helped prepare me for the insurance commissioner office."

Ennis' interest threatens to fissure the Brandywine Hundred Republicans, also the home base for Jeffrey E. Cragg, the New Castle County Republican co-chairman who actively is pursuing the nomination for insurance commissioner. Cragg's father, Ernest E. Cragg, is the Brandywine Republicans' regional chairman.

Jeff Cragg has spent the last month making the rounds of the Republican Party's seven regions -- Brandywine, Wilmington, Newark, Christiana-Mill Creek, Colonial, Kent and Sussex -- and is in the process of divesting himself of insurance interests in his business holdings.

"I've burned my ships. There's no going back," Cragg said.

State Republican Chairman Terry A. Strine said Tuesday there still could be more candidates emerge, but he was optimistic the party would use the state convention to unite behind one of them.

"I would hope this would be resolved, come the state convention in May," Strine said.

The Democrats have two candidates in the insurance commissioner field -- Matthew P. Denn, a lawyer who was the counsel to Gov. Ruth Ann Minner, and Karen Weldin Stewart, the party's candidate in 2000. They appear committed to taking their campaigns to a primary in September to settle their nomination.

Cragg called on the Brandywine Hundred Republicans to head off a similar showdown by solidifying behind one candidate and preserving the nomination for the region. Clearly he thought he should be that candidate.

"I have to give Dave the opportunity to make the right decision for the party," Cragg said.