Posted: Oct. 22, 2003
STATE REPUBLICANS HEAR FROM
THE HOME OFFICE
By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer
Two months after becoming
the Republican national chairman, Edward W. Gillespie arrived in
Wilmington on Wednesday evening with the confidence of someone who
believed all things were possible -- even turning Delaware from a
blue state for the Democrats to a red state for the Republicans.
"I do believe the Northeast
is very much in play for us," Gillespie said. "I do believe Delaware
is going to go Republican in '04."
As much as Gillespie was
seeing a red tide for President George W. Bush even though the
electorate here voted for Democrat Albert Gore Jr. in 2000, he was
not looking through rose-colored glasses entirely.
Gillespie declined to
project a Republican victory for governor in 2004, saying only the
trend for his party in gubernatorial races around the country was
favorable, and he shied away entirely from discussing the GOP
prospects against U.S. Sens. Thomas R. Carper and Joseph R. Biden
Jr., the Democrats who will be up for re-election in 2006 and 2008,
"We'll have to look at it as
the time comes," Gillespie said.
The chairman demurred even
as he sat beside U.S. Rep. Michael N. Castle, the Republican
stalwart who could create unimaginable havoc if he were to run
against either Carper or Biden, undoing the chumminess of the
Delaware congressional delegation, but Gillespie knew enough not to
urge it and Castle wanted no parts of it.
"No plans," Castle said.
Then he said it again. "No plans."
Gillespie was here to fire
up the faithful, headlining a $35-a-ticket dinner that drew more
than 200 Republicans to Arsht Hall on the University of Delaware's
In one sense his visit
already stole a march on the Delaware Democrats. When they brought
in Terry McAuliffe, their national chairman, in February, they made
it largely a private affair, closed to the public and the press, at
the Wilmington Club. Except for a small private reception
beforehand, the Republicans opened up their event, even attracting
C-SPAN for a taping that is scheduled to air Sunday at 6:30 p.m. and
Gillespie brought a strategy
and a message. "I'd like to do a little coaching tonight on how we
can transition from defense to offense," he said.
The strategy is to register 3
million new Republican voters nationwide, including 7,500 in
Delaware. Locally it is a goal that sounds grander than its result
would be, simply raising the percentage of Republicans from 34
percent of the 519,816 Delawareans registered in 2002 to 35 percent.
The Democrats accounted for 43 percent of the electorate in the last
election with the remaining 23 percent unaffiliated with either of
the major parties.
The message is that the
Republicans will keep the presidency in 2004 because the party has a
positive message while the Democrats have become what Gillespie
called "the party of protest and pessimism."
Still, the chairman
acknowledged the election would not be a runaway but so closely
fought that it mattered he was spending an evening in a state with
the minimum of three votes in the Electoral College.
"We are anticipating a very
close contest," Gillespie said. "President Bush is a strong and
principled leader who has restored honor and integrity to the White
House -- and we're going to keep it that way."
The Republicans have their
work cut out for them in Delaware, if they are to win. The state has
not gone with a Republican presidential candidate since 1988, also
the last year it elected a Republican governor when Castle ran for
the second time. It has dumped statewide Republican incumbents in
two of the last three campaigns, including the 2000 election when it
cashiered U.S. Sen. William V. Roth Jr. after five terms for Carper.
"We're going to win by
out-performing, out-working, out-hustling, out-recruiting and
out-smarting the Democrats -- which won't be hard to do," said
Priscilla B. Rakestraw, the Republican national committeewoman.
Gillespie held himself out as
a role model for what could happen. Now 41, he grew up in New Jersey
as part of an Irish-Catholic, Democratic family but became a
Republican. He got his start in Washington politics as a parking lot
attendant for the U.S. Senate.
It sounded, if not exactly
like the American Dream, like the Republican Dream -- even a
Democratic car jockey from New Jersey could grow up to be the
chairman of the Republican Party.
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