Posted: April 22, 2004


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

Delaware Republicans made progress toward clearing the field for James P. Ursomarso to run for lieutenant governor when Kelly L. Gates agreed Thursday to fold her own campaign in favor of his.

Gates accepted Ursomarso's offer for her to nominate him next month at the Republican state convention, where the party will endorse statewide candidates, and to become a co-chair of his organization, which still is taking shape.

"Working with Jim and supporting Jim is going to be the best for me and the party," Gates said. "This is a way for all of us to win. I'm comfortable with it. If it can't be me, so be it. It's not over, it's just a different path."

Gates saw the handwriting on the wall about a week after William Swain Lee, the Republicans' leading candidate for governor, settled on Ursomarso as a running mate, eclipsing both her and Tyler P. Nixon, who were seeking the nomination for lieutenant governor on their own.

Ursomarso said it was natural that he and Gates, who are friends, could work it out. "I'm thrilled. Kelly has run a great campaign over the last year. She put together a good organization, and I'm excited that we'll be working together to elect Republicans, especially Bill Lee, in November," he said.

Gates, 40, a Sedgely Farms management consultant, has been credited with plugging away at the race, but she was overmatched once Lee went with Ursomarso, 34, a member of a Wilmington car dealership family with national Republican ties. She said her new role will be announced to party members probably next week by a letter, signed by her, Ursomarso and Lee.

For now, Nixon, a 32-year-old Wilmington lawyer, is continuing his candidacy. At a Brandywine Region Republican meeting Monday evening, he said he plans to remain in the race through the state convention on May 15. If Ursomarso is endorsed as anticipated, Nixon is expected to drop out and clear the way for Ursomarso's nomination without resorting to a primary election on Sept. 11.

Lee and Ursomarso would be running against Democratic Gov. Ruth Ann Minner and Lt. Gov. John C. Carney Jr., both up for a second term. Delaware elects its governor and lieutenant governor separately, but in recent years the parties have treated the races like tickets.

Lee still has a pesky challenge to deal with from Michael D. Protack, a Yorklyn airline pilot who previously wanted to run for the U.S. Senate. It is a state of affairs that has him lamenting drolly.

"Before it's all done, Jim Ursomarso will have a clear shot to the nomination, and I won't," Lee said.