Posted: April 24, 2003


By Celia Cohen

Grapevine Political Writer

Keller Hopkins, the Sussex County Republican chairman who ran the most impressive Election Day operation in the state, is resigning his post in May, about halfway through his four-year term, to devote more time to his family construction firm.

Hopkins told party officials Tuesday he would step aside after the Republican state convention, scheduled for May 17 in Dover, to concentrate on Hopkins Construction Inc., a Bridgeville company he started with a couple of dump trucks in 1988 that has grown to a multi-million dollar operation with 35 employees.

""I've been an absentee owner at Hopkins. I've poured myself into politics, and I've loved every day of it, but I also love Hopkins. For the next six months, I need to focus 100 percent of my time on my business," Hopkins said.

Sussex Republican officials have set up a committee, chaired by state Sen. F. Gary Simpson of Milford, to plan a transition.

It met for the first time on Thursday morning and expects to schedule an election within 60 days of Hopkins' departure for the county committeemen and committeewomen to vote on his replacement. Hopkins' successor will serve for the rest of his term, which lasts until April 2005 and includes the 2004 presidential-year election season.

"There has been a tremendous amount accomplished under Keller's leadership. Keller understandably has to take care of the personal aspects of his life. The committee is going to encourage people to step forward and continue the work," said Sussex County Councilman Vance C. Phillips, a member of the committee.

Under Hopkins, the Sussex County Republican Party organized the best get-out-the-vote drive for the 2002 election. It was a crucial element in stopping a decade-long slide for the Delaware GOP, which lost three gubernatorial races in a row and a U.S. Senate seat in that time.

In 2002 the Republicans held their own in the statewide contests, re-electing all of their incumbents -- U.S. Rep. Michael N. Castle, Attorney General M. Jane Brady and Auditor R. Thomas Wagner Jr. -- and also picked up three seats in the state House of Representatives, all in Sussex County, to increase their majority in the chamber to 29-12.

Sussex County Republicans turned out 57 percent of their voters, the best performance in the state. Sussex County Democrats were next at 51 percent. Turnout for both parties in New Castle County and Kent County was below 50 percent.

The Sussex Republican turnout was called the "story in this election" by Joseph A. Pika, a University of Delaware political scientist.

"The evidence of the mobilization is astonishing," Pika said.