Posted: Jan. 17, 2008


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

Maybe Alan Levin took the Republicans' Lincoln Day Dinner he attended on Saturday to heart, because he sure proved the part of Old Abe's droll saying that went, you may fool all the people some of the time.

Levin was going to be a candidate for governor. He had briefed the party leadership on his campaign. Congressman Mike Castle, delightedly anticipating quality company on the statewide ticket, was talking him up. The Republican Governors Association was making Levin a priority. As recently as Wednesday, he was interviewing to find someone for lieutenant governor.

Levin was going to be a candidate for governor. Yeh, and the Titanic was unsinkable.

Levin walked away Thursday morning. A quick round of calls to let people like Castle and state Republican Chair Terry Strine know and a statement to the press -- "I have decided not to run for governor of the state of Delaware in 2008" -- and it was over.

Chalk it up to a gut check. In the end, Levin found himself rewriting Lincoln -- you may fool all the people some of the time, you can even fool some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool yourself any of the time.

"I couldn't get there. This was a total change of life. There were days I loved doing this, and there were days I couldn't see doing this every day. Unless you're willing to commit 110 percent to this, you shouldn't be doing it. The task didn't bother me. It was the lifestyle change. I enjoy my privacy. I enjoy my time. I enjoy my family," Levin said in an interview.

"I've had a knot in my stomach for about a month and a half, and when I finally made the decision not to do this, it went away."

As Levin stopped popping the Tums, the Republicans were reaching for theirs. Although there has been plenty of boomerang in Levin's life -- he flipped Happy Harry's, the cherished family enterprise, into the Walgreens pharmacy empire and then U-turned out of there, too -- the party was blindsided.

The Republicans are in a world of hurt. Election after election has gone against them. They have not won a race for governor in 20 years when Castle did it. Their statewide ballot is full of zeroes except for Castle.

Levin was making the Republicans feel good about themselves. They were banking on him like the Mudville fans with their last great hope riding on Mighty Casey, and now he was out.

"I had no idea. I frankly was of the opinion he was going to do it," Castle said. "I looked forward to running with him. It's very disappointing to the Republican Party and to the state, but I always respect the individual's decision."

The state party leaders were in Washington for a Republican National Committee meeting when they heard. They went there thinking they would be stars for coming up with a candidate of Levin's caliber, someone with the name recognition, political skills and financing to run a credible campaign, and instead they were in crisis.

"We're at Square One, and it's late,"  Strine, the state chair, said.

"In my years of political experience, this is probably one of the top two or three stories -- and disappointments. It's easy to say this is a blow to the Republican Party, but this is a loss for the state of Delaware," said Priscilla Rakestraw, the national committeewoman.

Levin did have one last gubernatorial act in him. By airing his decision on Thursday, he upstaged Gov. Ruth Ann Minner, the retiring Democrat who was giving her last State of the State speech.

With Levin out of the way, the Democrats were working hard not to salivate in public, even if one of them could be heard singing "Happy Days Are Here Again." The Democrats have been lamenting their own state of affairs -- having two tested candidates in Lt. Gov. John Carney and Treasurer Jack Markell for governor -- but they will take it any day over the Republicans' depleted condition.

"I've got problems in reverse in my own party," John Daniello, the state Democratic chair, said.

The Republicans look as though they are about to have their Jake Kreshtool Moment. That was one of the lowest of points for the Democrats. They had nobody for governor in 1988 against Castle, who was going for his second term, until well into the campaign season when Kreshtool, a lawyer and environmentalist, saved them from embarrassment by volunteering.

Kreshtool was a master of witticisms -- he said he called his wife to say he wanted to run and was told, "If the candidate will stop at the Seven-11 and pick up some lettuce and cottage cheese for the first lady, we'll discuss it" -- but it was about all he had. He polled 29 percent of the vote.

The Republicans do not know where they will turn.

Charlie Copeland? The Senate minority leader from the du Pont family could not issue a statement fast enough to take himself out. Terry Spence? The House speaker has been in and out of the governor's race more than Britney Spears has been in and out of rehab. Dave Burris? This is the same guy who bailed out of his term as Sussex County Republican chair because he said he did not have the time for politics. Mike Protack? Please.

Bill Lee? The retired judge who gave Minner a scare as the Republican candidate in 2004? Maybe -- if there was a draft and if there was money to run on.

"I was just thinking how good life is, now that I don't even have to open the political invitations," Lee cracked. "I would still love the challenge of doing the job, but I don't want to raise the money. If it was funded, I would consider it. It's not something I would rule out, but it's a bad hand. We've been left in a really bad situation."

Throw out the election calendars. The race for governor looks like it will be over a little early -- say on Sept. 9. Primary Day ought to settle it.