Posted: May 16, 2007


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

Lt. Gov. John C. Carney Jr. and Treasurer Jack A. Markell, rivals for the 2008 Democratic nomination for governor, have discussed a deal that would have Carney running for governor and Markell for lieutenant governor, Delaware Grapevine has learned.

It is an arrangement that would spare the Democratic Party a bruising and costly primary and likely shape Delaware politics for decades to come -- by making Carney the favorite to win the governorship in this increasingly Democratic state with another Democrat in position to follow.

The agreement is not finalized and could fall apart because of other interlocking parts. Markell is said to be unwilling to back out of one primary for governor only to land in another for lieutenant governor, an office that already is the target of an anticipated Democratic contest between Insurance Commissioner Matthew P. Denn and Wilmington Council President Theodore Blunt.

Denn apparently is willing to move aside for Markell and run for re-election as insurance commissioner in 2008, but Blunt is not. Instead, Blunt says he is sticking with his plans to declare his candidacy Saturday with a traditional statewide tour, insisting, "I'm announcing."

John D. Daniello, the Democratic state chair, acknowledged Wednesday there have been negotiations to avoid a Carney-Markell race, although he declined to confirm specifics.

"Obviously the candidates and the party and the incumbent elected officers have all been working for a unified ticket, and we'll continue to do that," Daniello said.

Democratic officials strongly want to avoid a gubernatorial primary between two popular candidates, both with loyal followings, out of alarm that the rivalry could divide the party for a generation -- state Democrats are known for holding grudges that long -- and give the Republicans a crack at winning the governorship for the first time since 1988.

The Republicans have not settled on a candidate yet, although the party leadership is urging Alan B. Levin of Happy Harry's fame to consider it.

The efforts to prevent a political collision between Carney and Markell appear to have begun about two months ago and intensified within the last week. Much of the brokering is credited to U.S. Sen. Thomas R. Carper.

"No one should be surprised that party leaders, be they Democrat or Republican, would try to avoid potentially divisive primaries. That's especially true with candidates as talented as the ones involved here. We face an embarrassment of riches in the Democratic Party and a deep bench," Carper said.

"What did Yogi Berra say? It ain't over 'til it's over. We haven't succeeded yet, but we haven't even gotten to the seventh inning stretch yet. In fact, the 'Star Spangled Banner' has just been sung and the umpire said, 'Play ball.'"

In a political footnote, Carper's public career got its biggest break with some ticket tinkering 25 years ago, when the Democrats were looking for a candidate in 1982 against Thomas B. Evans, the Republican congressman caught in a sex scandal.

U.S. Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. talked Carper, then the state treasurer, into running. The party pressured Bayard Marin, a Wilmington lawyer who already had announced against Evans, into withdrawing, and a New Castle County Democratic councilman was recruited to run for treasurer.

Some of the negotiations involving Carney and Markell came over the weekend at Carper's house in Wilmington. This followed a meeting between Carney and Markell last Wednesday in Carney's office in Dover.

Carney, who will be 51 on Sunday, is a twice-elected lieutenant governor whose term is up in 2008. Markell, 46, is in the middle of his third term as treasurer and would not have to give up the position to become a candidate.

Carney, Markell and Denn all acknowledged there have been discussions but nothing nailed down.

Carney said, "As I go around, running for governor and talking to people, if I had a dollar for everyone, Democrats in particular, asking me about avoiding this primary, I'd be able to finance my campaign. Having the two of us working together in partnership would certainly be better than the two of us running against each other. There's not been an agreement."

Markell said, "Sen. Carper has been very interested in talking to a number of talented people in the Democratic party to see how we can all play a role. Plenty of people have talked about what I should do. I've been taking a very serious look at the governor's office. I have no intention of running for lieutenant governor. There have been plenty of conversations but no agreement."

Denn said, "Sen. Carper has talked to me about changing some of my plans in the short term in a way that would help us avoid a primary between two friends of mine. I told him I would be willing to consider that, but as of now, there is no decision to be made."

The deal making has extended through almost all of the Democratic statewide officeholders, because another piece of it is believed to be a commitment from Carney to offer Markell the U.S. Senate appointment, if Biden leaves his seat as part of the next presidential administration.

Joe Biden and Attorney General Joseph R. "Beau" Biden III, widely assumed to be groomed as his father's eventual replacement, are said to be informed about the give-and-take but not involved.

This should not be a surprise. The last time Beau Biden was supposed to be part of a deal -- when Republican Attorney General M. Jane Brady bolted for the bench -- he walked away from an appointment by the governor and ran for the office.