Posted: April 3, 2003
By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer
Recruiting candidates is so essential to the
fate of political parties that Glenn C. Kenton, a former Republican
secretary of state, once said, "The election is 90 percent over when
the names go on the ballot."
For 2004, both the Democrats and the
Republicans are recruiting early and often. They are already going
about it, each in its own way -- which is not surprising, due to the
differences between the party that is in and the party that is out.
The Democrats are in, because they hold the
governorship. The Republicans are out, because they don't.
The governor, for better or worse, is regarded
as the power behind the party. It fell to Gov. Ruth Ann Minner, who
is up for a second term herself next year, to launch the Democrats'
effort, and she did it by recruiting someone else to lead the
recruiting operation -- two-term Treasurer Jack A. Markell.
Markell isn't on the ballot in 2004. When he
was in 2002, Minner tapped Lt. Gov. John C. Carney Jr. to be in
charge of recruiting. It made sense -- advancing the party by
turning to two statewide officials who expect to advance themselves
and by stirring the rivalry between Markell and Carney that both
Still, other politicians know ambition when
they see it. When one Democrat learned that Markell would be the
recruiting czar for 2004, he said merrily, "I'm sure that every
candidate he helps will help him."
Without a governor, without someone like
Markell or Carney available, Republican State Chairman J. Everett
Moore Jr. regards recruitment as a party function. He has enlisted
everyone in leadership -- himself, the seven regional chairs and the
41 representative district chairs -- to find candidates.
Moore is stepping down next month after a
single two-year term as the state chairman, but recruiting is such a
priority that he did not dare let it languish until someone new
takes over. "It was very important to me that I had plans laid out
-- finance plans for the next year and candidate recruitment for the
next year," he said.
"You can't win a race unless you have a horse
in it, and by horse, I mean someone who is strong," Moore added.
Ideal candidates not only are active
politically but have a base in their communities -- fire companies,
civic associations, churches, sport leagues, labor unions, wherever
Identifying candidates entails more than
collecting names for the ballot. Both parties also see it as priming
their recruits for the campaign -- providing assistance in fund
raising, organizing, crafting political literature, writing press
releases and so on. The Republicans are particularly proud of their
absentee ballot program, sending the ballots to all of their voters.
It is all the grunt work of politics. The
party that cuts corners doing it cuts itself.
"It's not rocket science. But it also doesn't
happen just because you wake up in the morning. It's not sufficient
to recruit a good candidate and then say, see you on Election
Night," Markell said.
The Democrats may be the party in power, but
they are feeling the pressure for 2004 because of what happened in
2002. While the Democrats re-elected their two statewide incumbents
on the ballot -- Markell and U.S. Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. -- and
kept control of the state Senate, their numbers were decimated in
the state House of Representatives.
The Democratic caucus in the 41-member chamber
shrank from 15 to 12 representatives. The biggest reason was
redistricting, the once-a-decade redrawing of legislative districts
to account for population shifts, because the Republicans as the
majority masterminded the new map.
Candidate recruitment also played a
considerable role in the House results. The Republicans beat two
Democratic incumbents in Sussex County by finding challengers who
fit the redrawn districts there. The Democrats' bright spot was
winning three out of four districts where no incumbent was running.
The Democrats got the message. "We're doing
recruitment, and we're doing it early," Minner said. "We sort of let
down our guard in '02, and we're going to be back on top in '04."
For the statewide races in 2004, neither party
has much work to do.
For governor and lieutenant governor, Minner
and Carney are running for second terms. The Republicans have
William Swain Lee, a retired judge, running for governor, although
he does have a challenger, and they have a cattle-call of candidates
to sort out for lieutenant governor.
For U.S. representative and insurance
commissioner, Republicans Michael N. Castle and Donna Lee Williams
are seeking re-election, although Williams, now in her third term,
could face a primary. The Democrats are expected to back Matthew P.
Denn, the governor's legal counsel, for insurance commissioner. As
for Castle, who is now in his sixth term after being governor, the
Democrats gave up against him years ago.
Further down the ballot, some state
representative districts already are emerging as targeted races
where candidate recruitment is expected to be intense. All involve
One match-up already is set in Sussex County,
where Democrat Shirley A. Price wants a shot at Republican Rep.
Gerald W. Hocker, who unseated her by 57 votes.
The Democrats are expected to look for someone
against Republican Rep. John C. Atkins, who won an open seat in a
Sussex district with a Democratic registration edge. The Republicans
are expected to go after Democratic Rep. Bethany A. Hall-Long, who
won an open seat in the Middletown area. She has drawn attention as
a nursing professor who nevertheless voted for a bill that would
weaken the smoking ban, legislation that cleared the House with a
bare 21-vote majority and was sent to the Senate.
While recruitment is political life-or-death,
it is not supposed to be suicidal. It only goes so far, as Markell
is showing by example. He will not be recruiting himself to run
"No, thank you," Markell said.
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