Posted: Nov. 21, 2003


By Celia Cohen

Grapevine Political Writer

The Brandywine Hundred Republicans pulled off quite a coup on Friday evening. They got about 300 people to pay $50 each for a mock election that meant nothing and a speaker who never showed.

The occasion was the Brandywine Region Republican Committee's "Road to Victory Dinner," held in the gentry-like ambiance of the DuPont Country Club, where the prime entertainment was a straw poll for the party's contenders for governor, lieutenant governor, New Castle County executive and County Council president.

Anyone with a ticket -- the "poll tax," as Brandywine Chairman Ernest E. Cragg quipped -- could vote, and that included a table or so of Kent County Republicans imported by Michael D. Protack, a gubernatorial candidate, and a smattering of Democratic guests.

There also was supposed to be a speech by U.S. Rep. Curt Weldon of Pennsylvania with an introduction from U.S. Rep. Michael N. Castle, but they missed the event because of votes in the Congress.

That is the way it has gone for the 2003 dinner. It originally was scheduled for Sept. 19 but had to be postponed. "We had two problems -- Isabel and Ruth Ann," said Cragg, referring to the hurricane and the state of emergency called by Democratic Gov. Ruth Ann Minner.

The mock election was about as real as Joe Millionaire's money. Even the ballot failed to reflect reality.

The vote for governor had William Swain Lee, the retired judge who is favored by the party establishment, beating Protack, a Yorklyn airline pilot, 133-81. The Democrats will have Minner on the ballot as she seeks a second term.

The only candidate listed for lieutenant governor was Kelly L. Gates, who got 169 votes with 11 other votes going to two write-in candidates, but her showing is unlikely to matter. The only vote really expected to count for lieutenant governor is Lee's, and he has not committed to anyone yet. On the Democratic side, Lt. Gov. John C. Carney Jr. will be running again.

The straw poll for county executive was an anomaly. The ballot listed House Speaker Terry R. Spence, who increasingly is not expected to run, but it did not list New Castle City Council President Christopher J. Castagno, who is. Spence and Castagno sat side by side at the dinner -- more evidence there would be no competition between them. Spence polled 179 votes, with Castagno getting 29 write-in votes.

County executive is a race the Republicans would like to win. Although they last took the office in 1984, they hope to capitalize on the fallout from a federal investigation and what is expected to be a take-no-prisoners primary between County Council President Christopher A. Coons and Chief Administrative Officer Sherry L. Freebery.

If there was any buzz, it was for the three candidates for council president, all of whom have said they are running and were listed on the ballot. The tally was 107 votes for Newark Region Vice Chairman Paul J. Pomeroy, 87 votes for Wilmington Councilman Paul T. Bartkowski and 21 votes for Gary L. Bowman, an unsuccessful candidate for the nomination in 2000.

The Democrats also have three candidates interested in council president: Paul G. Clark, a County Council candidate in 2002; County Councilman Penrose Hollins; and Dianne M. Kempski, a county row officer.

To say anyone "won" a straw poll would be a misnomer. The only winner was the Brandywine Region, which got all those people to pay $50 for a phantom election and a phantom speaker.