Posted: Sept. 6, 2004


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

There is nothing more confident than Democrats in Wilmington. Four days after the Republicans re-nominated George W. Bush, the Delaware campaign for John F. Kerry went to the city to dig in for the last and most intense stretch of the election season, the eight vital weeks from Labor Day to Election Day.

The local Kerry operation staged what it called a "front porch conversation," making Delaware one of 25 states to hold a neighborhood social turning Labor Day into a campaign vehicle. The idea was to link the Democratic presidential candidate to jobs and families, one of the core messages of the campaign.

This event also combined national and local politics. It was held at noontime at a cozy spot on 14th Street not far from the Brandywine, in front of the home of the husband-and-wife political team of William S. Montgomery, the chief of staff for Mayor James M. Baker, and Marilyn J. Doto, who was a Kerry delegate to the Democratic national convention.

This political block party drew about 75 people, including the mayor and Gov. Ruth Ann Minner and other officeholders, spilling from the front porch into the street in front of the neighbors' house. The neighbors are Republicans, but it was all right. They were away.

Bill Montgomery and Lynn Doto signed on early with Kerry, and this was their second event for the campaign. Last November, before Kerry's nomination was anywhere close to a sure thing, they hosted a coffee for Teresa Heinz Kerry, the candidate's wife.

Baker and Minner were the speakers, giving their remarks from the front porch.

Baker was Baker, a wildly successful Wilmington politician whose charm is his scatter-shot abrasiveness. It has worked so well for him that he is cruising toward a second term, facing only nominal opposition, in a city where mayoral elections typically make pit bull fights look like tea parties.

"Vote for whoever you want," Baker said. "Everybody knows, I don't really care what people think of me."

Baker berated the Bush administration for neglecting cities -- "If the federal government was doing its job, we would not have drugs, we would not have guns in the city, at all" -- and eventually got around to urging a vote for Kerry.

"If you think because of terrorism, you have to vote for Bush, you're voting the wrong way," he said.

Minner stuck more conventionally to the message of the day. Although her roots are rural, growing up downstate in Milford, she was all-city today.

"As the city goes, so goes the rest of us. George Bush doesn't talk much about the economy or jobs for our cities," she said. "Working America is what this is all about."

Although Bush roared out of the Republican convention with a lead, forcing much hand wringing nationally among Democrats, Wilmington seemed impervious.

The city is so Democratic that when Michael N. Castle, the Republican congressman, was rolling to 72 percent of the vote in 2002, he was fought to a virtual draw in Wilmington by a walk-on Democratic candidate with a police record. Castle won by 105 votes out of more than 15,000 cast -- and he lives in the city.

"I don't see the Bush bounce," Doto said, "although I suppose there was one."