Posted: Aug. 11, 2004


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

Where the "Bill Lee for Governor" sign was spotted next to the "Feed Truck Entrance," it was clearly the place to stop for the University of Delaware's annual Farm & Home Field Day, an annual Sussex County gathering where farming and politics mix.

It is the place where state Treasurer Jack A. Markell, Brown University, University of Chicago, leaves his corporate pinstripes behind to pet a not-yet-corpulent pig, as it lay cradled in the arms of John E. McGee III, a 15-year-old Laurel farmboy so proud of his pigs that he wears a huge silver belt buckle with one on it.

It is the place where the University of Delaware proves that its roots are as much in crops as in chemistry and where everybody lines up to have chicken -- is there anything else? -- for lunch.

It is the place where the politicians come for their own particular brand of cultivation -- planting kisses, harvesting votes -- among the 600 or so people who mingled Wednesday under the trees at the university's Research and Education Center outside Georgetown.

"It's one of the great Delaware traditions when you really think about it," said Lt. Gov. John C. Carney Jr. "It's a way we bring people together, like the old days, particularly in the agricultural areas. Also, it's such a wonderful grove."

Farm & Home Field Day always comes shortly after the Delaware State Fair in Harrington, so it feels like a coda to those gaudier festivities, like a time for letting down with the family and close friends after the guests have gone.

This is agriculture talking to itself, so the campaigning fits in at a low murmur.

There is less of a press of politicians. Only the governor's race had both of its major candidates present -- Ruth Ann Minner, the Democratic governor who got to speak, and William Swain Lee, the Republican challenger who made himself known by shaking hands along the lunch line.

U.S. Rep. Michael N. Castle, a Republican looking for a record seventh term, and Carney, a Democrat running for his second, attended. So did a couple of statewide officeholders not on the ballot this year -- Markell, the Democratic treasurer, and M. Jane Brady, the Republican attorney general. Legislators, Sussex County officials and a host of other candidates also were there.

Old-timers remarked the crowd seemed smaller, probably a casualty of these rush-rush times, when even farmers have too much to do to give up half a day to leisure.

Farm & Home Field Day had an extra political flourish to it this year. University President David P. Roselle announced plans to upgrade the Georgetown site by building the "Carvel Education Center," a $7.6 million project that will provide more community meeting room, offices and laboratory space.

The donation that led to it was a gift of $2 million from Gov. Elbert N. Carvel, now 94, a Laurel Democrat who was elected to split terms in 1948 and 1960. Carvel was there, accepting thanks for his contribution to the center, for which the rest of the financing is expected to come from the state.

"Gov. Carvel has a whole lifetime of figuratively and literally making gifts to the people of Delaware," Roselle said.

Still an oak of a man at six-foot-six, Carvel was not up to giving a speech, or even to walking unassisted, but the wave and the smile and the delight in the crowd were as strong as ever.

After the presentation, Carvel posed for what probably was the greatest grouping of Delaware lieutenant governors ever assembled for a photo, as he sat in a chair surrounded by Castle, Minner and Carney.

Carvel was elected lieutenant governor in 1944, Castle in 1980, Minner in 1992 and 1996, and Carney in 2000.

Someday that photo may become known as lieutenant governors who made it to governor, but it is up to Carney to elevate it. The others have done their part.