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
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.
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