Posted: April 10, 2003; updated April 23, 2003


By Celia Cohen

Grapevine Political Writer

Although nearly a month has gone by since Republican State Chairman J. Everett Moore Jr. stunned his party by saying he was stepping down, the Delaware GOP has no more idea today than it did then about who its next leader will be.

Moore floored his membership at a Republican State Committee dinner March 14, when he said he would not seek a second two-year term, giving the party a two-month window to find someone else in time for the election at the state convention, scheduled for May 17 in Dover.

Until then, Republicans were on cruise control. Moore had taken the chairmanship promising to serve no more than two terms, but he was assumed to be good for another two years, particularly after the party held its own in the 2002 statewide races and picked up three seats in the state House of Representatives. It was the best Republican showing since 1994.

Moore explained his decision by declaring he had fulfilled his mission of opening up the party to new people willing to take leadership roles.

Well, where are they?

As soon as Moore announced his departure, names of potential replacements started to circulate, but as of now, they range somewhere between undecided and dropped out.

The most viable candidates appeared to be state Vice Chairman John R. Matlusky, Kent County Chairman Patrick W. Murray and National Committeewoman Priscilla B. Rakestraw. While it is a common tactic in politics to play hard to get, these candidates have come across as quite sincere about it.

Murray was the first to say no. He has opted to stick with what he is doing as not only the Kent County chairman but the political director for William Swain Lee's gubernatorial campaign. "I'm going to stay with Kent County unless there is something cataclysmic to change it," he said.

Matlusky also has said no. He announced his decision Monday, April 14, at a meeting of the Christiana-Mill Creek Republican Region, the organization he used to chair before becoming the state vice chairman two years ago.

"There will be a time, but this is not the right time to do it," he said.

Matlusky is probably the Republicans' unsung Most Valuable Player of the 2002 election. As a state House aide, he had the hot hand in drawing the district lines that led to the pickup of seats. Legislative districts are adjusted every 10 years to account for population shifts. He said he wants to spend the 2004 election focusing on retaining the House Republican majority.

Rakestraw sounds uncertain about running for the post, which it appears has never been held by a woman. "This is a very demanding position -- time, energy, commitment, the very best you can give your party. It is a position not to be entered into lightly," she said.

Rakestraw has held party leadership positions since the mid-1970s. As the national committeewoman, she already has one of the three top posts, along with national committeeman and state chairman. She did all but move into party headquarters to work on the 2002 campaign.

In addition to those possible candidates, there is Michael D. Protack, a novice politician who is chasing Bill Lee for the gubernatorial nomination. Protack brazenly offered to get out of that race in exchange for the chairmanship, an offer he says still stands, although it is unlikely to be accepted as long as Lee has anything to say about it, and he does.

"I have some sympathy for where he finds himself, but I don't consider him to be a factor in either of these elections," Lee said.

There is also some back chatter about turning to someone like Richard H. Evans, the laid-back chief of staff for Pierre S. "Pete" du Pont in the Congress and the governorship in the 1970s, and later an executive with what was Delmarva Power and Wilmington 2000, a redevelopment effort.

"Am I on any active campaign to do that? No. If somebody asks me to do it, I'd sit down and talk about it," Evans said. He added dubiously, "I'm not regimented enough to do anything like that."

Whatever happens, nobody expects a fight. "I think we're going to coalesce," Matlusky said.

Moore says it is only a matter of time before somebody steps forward to succeed him. It is simply taking a while because his announcement caught everyone off guard. "I think it's a case of surprising people, so people are having to take stock about whether they can do it," he said.

Nor should anyone get the bright idea that Moore would accept a draft for the chairmanship, which would have him spending another two years on the road between his law office in Georgetown and the party headquarters in Wilmington.

"I'd say the chances are slim and none, and slim's left town," Moore said.