Posted: April 11, 2012


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

Mitt Romney must have wanted to come to Delaware in the worst way, because he sure did.

Romney big-footed in here for a political rally for his presidential campaign on Tuesday, the same day that was set up so painstakingly for the debut of Jeff Cragg and Sher Valenzuela as the Republican ticket for governor and lieutenant governor, their one day to shine all by themselves.

This was a guy, hammered for practicing Darwinian capitalism at the investment firm he used to run, so for his first appearance in the state, Romney turns to Darwinian politics to become the Bain of his fellow Republicans?

It was another Etch A Sketch moment. Better the campaign should erase it.

Could Romney have done anything worse? Sure, he could have made certain he gave a special shout-out to Christine O'Donnell.

Wait. He did that. Really.

Ohhhhh nooooo. After all the work the Republican state leadership has done to repair the ruptures in the party since the 2010 senatorial primary, Romney does that.

He stood at his event, staged in Wilmington in the gritty, cavernous work space at RC Fabricators, which puts up steel structures, and out of 600 or so people there, he singled out O'Donnell, prominently standing to his side.

Romney did not publicly recognize the presence of Mike Castle, the past governor and congressman who lost that infamous primary to O'Donnell. A past governor! In his own state! Nor did Romney bother to mention Greg Lavelle, the state representative who is his chief organizer here. (Lavelle got a better billing when he graciously welcomed Newt Gingrich two weeks ago.)

"I see one of my supporters over here, Christine O'Donnell. I didn't know you were going to be here," Romney said.

If Romney did not know, it is a marvel, because O'Donnell was the cause of furious behind-the-scenes maneuvering beforehand. Republicans who do not want to knock their all-but-certain nominee publicly are railing privately that Romney's campaign originally planned to have her introduce him, but party leaders went ballistic and had it stopped. Still, she got her moment.

All this, for a presidential primary that no longer matters, once Rick Santorum folded his campaign hours before Romney's rally. It was held exactly two weeks before the Delaware Republicans go through the motions of voting on Tuesday, April 24, along with Pennsylvania, New York, Connecticut and Rhode Island.

Could Romney's campaign have done anything else worse? What, like the setting for the event?

RC Fabricators is not exactly located in the back country of Winterthur, but the back streets of Wilmington, in a representative district where almost three-quarters of the voters are Democrats.

"It's not a huge voting area, and it's definitely not Republican," said Stephanie Bolden, the Democratic state representative for the area.

This could be the reason that a knot of people, standing on a street corner as cars left the rally, saw them on their way by chanting cheerily, "Obama! Obama!"

To be sure, RC Fabricators is just the sort of place that Romney could be expected to go to make his argument that he understands how the economy works and the president does not. It is a Republican kind of operation, good blue-collar jobs, non-union naturally. Its steel is in the New Castle County Courthouse.

The firm was started 27 years ago by Robert Suppe, a former state chair of Associated Builders and Contractors, and grew to 115 workers with his wife Rebecca as the chief executive officer.

Never mind that Robert and Rebecca Suppe actually live across the Maryland line in Elkton. Not to mention they have each maxed out, contributing $1,200 at one time or another, to Jack Markell, the Democratic governor running for re-election.

It figures. It is just more evidence of how hard it is going to be for Cragg and Valenzuela in their campaign to unseat Markell and Matt Denn, the Democratic lieutenant governor. Not only does Romney butt into the day they declare for office, but the host of Romney's event gives to Markell.

Cragg to his credit made the most of the day. He emerged as the substitute to O'Donnell to introduce Romney, and he did, even though it meant rescheduling one of his own campaign events. He also managed to show he was magnanimous enough to endorse Romney but no pushover.

"The Romney campaign was kind enough to allow me to address you, and we moved our event back to after this event," Cragg said. "I also want to take this opportunity to talk about one of the more important things today, and that is my support of Mitt Romney as the next president of the United States."

Cragg got his applause and got out of there, before O'Donnell got in. He gets it.

Meanwhile, Gingrich has been going everywhere, New Castle County, Kent County and Sussex County, like he cannot get enough of the state and thinks the world of the voters. Meaningless primary or not, Gingrich has been charming, and Delaware likes to be charmed.