Posted: May 27, 2004


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

The Delaware Republicans have a pesky primary for governor. They expect to have a vacancy shortly for a new state vice chairman.

Surprise, surprise, there is talk that one situation might lead to the solution for the other. This is politics, after all, where so much gets linked together that it puts a sausage-maker to shame.

Feelers were extended Wednesday over lunch at the Wilmington Club. National Committeeman W. Laird Stabler Jr. and Richard A. Forsten, a lawyer for the Republican Party, met with Michael D. Protack, an airline pilot who thinks he should be governor, despite an absence of political credentials and the presence of a party endorsement for retired Judge William Swain Lee.

Protack expressed some interest in becoming vice chairman. Stabler, who chairs Bill Lee's gubernatorial campaign, expressed a great deal of interest in bypassing a primary so his candidate can focus on running against Gov. Ruth Ann Minner, the first-term Democrat.

Alternatively, Protack was told he might be considered for a seat on the 16-member executive committee, the Republicans' governing council, if not for vice chairman.

Stabler explained, "We in the Lee campaign do not want a primary. I'm going to do anything I can to avoid that. If it means putting him in as vice chairman, or something else, I'm going to try to do that. You can call it a deal, you can call it a payoff, you can call it a regrouping."

Protack hedged. "I don't want a deal, and I don't want it to look like one, because we've been doing that for so long," he said. "My preference is still to run in a primary, but I know, sometimes being selfish is not a good thing. I'd have to think long and hard."

While nothing was resolved, it is early. It could come together, or it could fall apart, especially because Protack is not the only consideration. Others are looking at the post, too, and there is also a certain sentiment that Protack does not deserve to be appeased, any more than it is a good idea to negotiate with two-year-olds.

Sometimes brooding, sometimes sunny, Mike Protack has been a quirky figure within the Republican Party for two election seasons now, a man seemingly in search of an office, any office. The vice chairmanship would be the fourth one he has considered.

Protack thought about running for the U.S. Senate in 2002 but gave way to Raymond J. Clatworthy, who failed to stop Democrat Joseph R. Biden Jr. from winning a sixth term. Protack switched his interest to governor, although he offered to give it up a year ago if the party would make him the state chairman. The Republicans did not bite.

The post for vice chair is coming open unexpectedly. It is the result of tumult at the Republican state convention earlier this month, when Stabler was shouldered aside by Thomas H. Draper, a Sussex County businessman, who then lost an election to John R. Matlusky, the current vice chairman.

Matlusky won a four-year term, beginning in September. Although party rules would allow him to hold both posts simultaneously, he says he does not intend to, leaving his current position for someone else. It would be filled by a vote of the executive committee, the winner taking over until Matlusky's two-year term expires next May.

State Republican Chairman Terry A. Strine said there are a half-dozen people interested in the post, including Protack, and although he would not say who they were, the names are hardly a secret. They began circulating by the time the gavel fell to end the state convention.

Sussex County, which provides a fair share of the Republicans' firepower, would not mind one of its own, and Bruce A. Rogers, a former county chairman, has been mentioned. Outgoing Kent County Chairman Patrick W. Murray is pushing for Cathy Murray, his wife, who is the party secretary.

Also in the mix are John Bonk, who is running the 2004 get-out-the-vote drive, Jeffrey E. Cragg, the New Castle County co-chairman who lost  the endorsement for insurance commissioner at the convention, and Kelly L. Gates, who deferred to James P. Ursomarso for lieutenant governor.

J. Everett Moore Jr., a former state chairman, believes the party ought to consider more than political expediency. "They need someone to help unite the party, somebody relatively well known, not perceived as part of any faction, someone who, if need be, can step into the chairman's role," he said.

Whatever happens, it does not have to happen quickly. Stabler, for one, is prepared to be patient.

"It's still up in the air, but that doesn't mean something can't be done," he said.