Posted: April 21, 2014
BEAU BIDEN OUT, MATT DENN IN
By Celia Cohen
A new Democratic candidate for attorney general did not take long.
Matt Denn, the Democratic lieutenant governor, was waiting at the door of the election department in Dover, when it opened for business on Monday morning, to file for the office.
All it took was a long Easter weekend, from the time Beau Biden unsettled state politics by announcing on Thursday he would not run for a third term as the Democratic attorney general in 2014 but for governor in 2016, for Denn to get in.
Leave it to Biden. He does not close a political door without opening a window for someone else.
It happened four years ago in another surprise switch, when Biden pivoted from a campaign for senator to re-election. Chris Coons was ready to shed his lot as New Castle County's Democratic executive for the Senate race about as quick as it takes to say Stoltz Real Estate.
So here was Denn, regrouping fast, after he was all but big-footed for governor, an office it was no secret he wanted, by someone who shares the most famous name in Delaware politics and already had nearly a million dollars in his campaign account.
Denn got in the same way Biden got out -- by a blast e-mail out of nowhere.
"My friend Beau Biden surprised all of Delaware, including me," Denn wrote on Monday.
"It has been a busy few days since then, with many people urging me to consider becoming a candidate for attorney general this year. It has been a hard decision. . . .
"But as I have thought about it and talked it over with my family, I've realized that the Attorney General's Office would allow me to take a leadership role on some issues that are critical to our state, while still staying involved in the issues involving Delaware's children that have been the core of my work over the last six years."
While Denn has solidified his situation, the rest of the race for attorney general is still fluid.
Kathy Jennings, the state prosecutor, is another possible prime Democratic candidate, and she is thinking about it.
"My greatest consideration is about what's best for the office and the people of Delaware. I've prosecuted everything from misdemeanors to serial murders. I believe I have what it takes. That said, I'm a tried-and-true loyal Democrat. I'll be making a decision in short order," Jennings said.
Jennings also has an unusual complication to consider. She would have to quit her job. The law says a deputy attorney general "shall resign" to become a candidate for attorney general.
For the Republicans, the scramble to recruit a candidate is on. They looked like they were going to take a pass on a campaign against Biden, as they did in 2010, but an open race makes it different. They appear to be going hard after Colm Connolly, the former U.S. attorney.
Denn comes to the race with some distinct political advantages, namely, he is a three-time statewide winner, once for insurance commissioner and twice for lieutenant governor, and he has almost $94,000 in his campaign account, a respectable amount to get him going.
His most glaring political drawback is never working as a prosecutor, and while the Attorney General's Office has other responsibilities, such as legal counsel to the state and consumer protection, the voters typically tend to lean toward electing prosecutors to a post associated most prominently with law enforcement.
Denn is in the middle of his second term as lieutenant governor, something that surprisingly implicates the constitution.
There is no provision for replacing a lieutenant governor. If Denn left, the office would stay vacant until someone new could be elected in 2016. It is unclear whether this means Denn is constitutionally indispensable or constitutionally worthless.
Curiously, Denn would still be in the line of succession for governor, although lower in it, if he were to be the attorney general.
If something happened to Jack Markell, the Democratic governor, the constitution provides for the office to pass to the lieutenant governor, except there would be none, and then on to the secretary of state, currently Jeff Bullock, and then the attorney general, who would be Denn.
Without a lieutenant governor, there would also be other holes in state government.
The state Senate would lack a president, although it does have a backup with Patti Blevins as the Democratic president pro tem. The Board of Pardons would be short one of its members, designated by the constitution to be the lieutenant governor, the chancellor, the secretary of state, the treasurer and the auditor.
It is a lot of holes, enough of them that Blevins says the General Assembly probably ought to think about a constitutional amendment setting a method for replacing the lieutenant governor.
An amendment has to be passed by two consecutive legislatures, but with one ending in June and another convening in January, it could happen relatively quickly. Blevins was open to filling a vacancy either by an appointment by the governor or by a special election, whatever way could attract enough votes to be approved by the required supermajority of two-thirds.
"We need to try to do that," Blevins said.
Who would have figured that one simple decision by Beau Biden not to run for re-election could not only shake up politics but leave the state out of equilibrium, too?