Posted: June 12, 2003


By Celia Cohen

Grapevine Political Writer

If the Kent County Republicans can show off by bringing in a neighboring governor for their showcase fund-raiser, so can the Kent County Democrats.

Pennsylvania Gov. Edward G. Rendell came to Dover for the Kent County Democratic Spring Reception, held Thursday evening at Dover Downs, just four months after the Republicans imported Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. for their Lincoln Day Dinner.

Bragging rights, however, probably go to the Kent County Democrats. They had a governor of their own to welcome their guest -- something that Delaware Republicans haven't been able to do in 10 years. They had to settle for a former governor, U.S. Rep. Michael N. Castle, to do the greeting.

Still, Rendell managed to undercut the Democratic advantage by persistently speaking of Gov. Ruth Ann Minner as "Ruth," not "Ruth Ann." It made listening to him something like waiting for chalk to screech again on a blackboard.

"A modern-day Democrat is Ruth Minner," Rendell said. "Nobody does it better than Ruth."

It was too much for Kent County Democratic Chairman Ross Trader, who commandeered the lectern as soon as Rendell finished his remarks. "Once you cross that state line, it's 'Gov. Ruth Ann,' and you're the only one allowed to call her 'Ruth,'" he said.

Minner said it was just Rendell being Rendell, whom she has known for years. "I've always let you call me 'Ruth,'" she said.

The what's-in-a-name game was only a part of what was a quirky appearance for Rendell, despite his many years in politics as a Philadelphia mayor and Democratic national chairman.

Because of his crammed schedule, Rendell nearly stood up the Kent County Democrats -- who paid $75 a person or $125 a couple to attend -- by arriving only about 10 minutes before the two-and-a-half-hour reception was scheduled to end. By then, the crowd of about 150 people had dwindled to perhaps half that size, scattered in sparse, little pockets in an overlarge room -- a scene that is practically a capital crime in politics, where one of the basics is packing a place.

Rendell also skipped what would have been a certain applause line by not mentioning his best Delaware connection. His wife Midge, more formally known as U.S. Circuit Judge Marjorie O. Rendell, is from Wilmington and an Ursuline Academy graduate. Ehrlich had played up his wife's Delaware ties to much appreciation -- she is a University of Delaware graduate.

What both Rendell and Ehrlich could not resist was a passing reference to their burning envy of the revenue-rich slots here -- something they want for their states, presumably at Delaware's expense. Ehrlich had joked he came to Delaware to see all those Marylanders with their money, and Rendell began his remarks by gazing around his surroundings and quipping, "So this is what you get if you have legalized slots. Just kidding."

The effort has not gone well for either governor, as Rendell acknowledged to reporters after he spoke. "There's a significant anti-gambling force in the legislature," he said. "I'm not sure we're going to have slots this year."

Rendell in his remarks gave a pep talk to the Democrats to quit conceding so much to the Republicans. He said Democrats were the party of a strong defense because the military that fought in Afghanistan and Iraq was the legacy of the Clinton administration. He said Democrats were the party that was tough on crime because it was the work of U.S. Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. and the Clinton administration that put more police on the street. He said it was the Democrats who were the fiscally conservative party, while the Republicans ran up the deficit.

"Those guys in Washington have gotten away with bloody murder," Rendell said.

There were any number of reasons given for why the Kent County Democrats managed to bring in Rendell. Trader said it was because they could. Minner said it was because she asked him. Rendell said it was because he was envious -- he's stuck with two Republican senators and a Republican legislature, while Minner has Biden and U.S. Sen. Thomas R. Carper and at least a Democratic state Senate.

"I'm it when it comes to Democrats," Rendell said.

Still, there could have been another reason. "Why is he coming to a county party function in Delaware?" said Christopher A. Coons, the New Castle County Council president. "Because he's practicing for Iowa and New Hampshire."

Rendell may need the practice. Ruth Minner, indeed.