Posted: April 9, 2010


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

The political gods had their fun back in November, when no one knew Michele Rollins was going to be a Republican congressional candidate, including Rollins herself.

It seems there can be foreshadowing in politics, not just in the minds of professors of literature, and Rollins was prime to get caught up in it.

Rollins and Pete du Pont, the Republican governor from 1977 to 1981, were hosting a fund-raiser shortly before Thanksgiving at Rollins' Chateau Country home for Colin Bonini, the state senator running for treasurer.

People were in a good mood. The holiday season was approaching, they were in select company, the speeches would be short and the drinks tall.

The speakers arranged themselves at one end of a large room, crowded with 150 people. They would hear from Rollins, du Pont, Bonini, Mike Castle, the congressman who announced the month before he would run for the Senate, and Charlie Copeland, the du Pont family member who gave up a state Senate seat for a losing campaign for lieutenant governor in 2008.

The event prompted du Pont to remember another time at the Rollins estate. It was one of the most memorable in Delaware history. The political Furies were really running wild then.

Richard Nixon was the president. Cale Boggs was an aging senator. This was 1971.

Boggs, who also had been a congressman and governor, wanted to retire when his Senate term was up the next year, but it would set up a bruising primary between du Pont, then the congressman, and Hal Haskell, the ex-mayor of Wilmington, very bad for the state Republican Party.

The Rollins estate was the site for a disarmament summit to bring in Nixon to sort the situation out. John Rollins, the business titan and Republican financier, was a friend of Nixon's and the lieutenant governor with Boggs in the 1950s. Nixon arrived by presidential helicopter, bringing du Pont along for the ride, as well as Bill Roth, the state's other Republican senator, and Bob Dole, the Republican senator from Kansas.

Nixon talked Boggs into running again. As the Republicans wanted, there would be no primary.

The Republicans should have been careful what they wished for. It set off a chain of events. Boggs lost the election, and the nervy New Castle County Democratic councilman who beat him is the vice president of the United States today.

It is not the Republicans' favorite memory. When du Pont had his turn to speak at Bonini's fund-raiser, he cheerily noted he once flew to the Rollins grounds from Washington aboard Nixon's presidential helicopter and let it go at that.

"What the purpose was, I've long since forgotten," du Pont quipped.

If the 1972 Republican statewide ticket could be shaped at the Rollins house, maybe the 2010 ticket could, too.

People looked at the lineup of speakers and wondered merrily if there could be a congressional candidate to go along with Castle and Bonini. Sure there could, but not the one who was the subject of the speculation.

It was premature excogitation to think Charlie Copeland would run.

At this point Michele Rollins had no plans for it herself. She expected to spend the election season encouraging others to campaign, only coming to the conclusion last month that it looked as though the Republicans were giving away Castle's congressional seat to John Carney, the former Democratic lieutenant governor, and maybe she ought to think about it.

"I had intended to make a major effort to get people to be candidates, not by being a candidate myself," Rollins said. 

Strangely enough, Rollins actually was mentioned as a congressional candidate that evening at her house. It materialized in a conversation involving Priscilla Rakestraw, the Republican national committeewoman.

Rollins had thoughts about running in an internal party election for the seat on the Republican National Committee herself someday, but Rakestraw has been there since Gerald Ford was president and shows no sign of relinquishing it. This was the context of the conversation.

"I think Michele should run for Congress," Rakestraw teased.

"You want me to run for everything except what I want to run for," Rollins cracked.

There it was. Somebody said Congress. When people talk at the Rollins home, the political gods are listening and laughing.