Posted: Oct. 29, 2003
BILL LEE IS THE NAME,
POLLING IS THE GAME
By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer
William Swain Lee will not
be running for governor in 2004, after all. He will be replaced by
Bill Lee, who is exactly like the original candidate except shorter
by eight letters.
The identity makeover,
something of a Delaware version of switching to earth tones, was
prompted by a poll conducted late last month for Lee, regarded as
all but certain to be the Republican nominee against Gov. Ruth Ann
Minner, the first-term Democrat.
"Bill Lee runs better than
William Swain Lee. I have no idea why that is," Lee said.
Still, any edge is welcome
against an incumbent who has won three statewide races -- two for
lieutenant governor and one for governor -- and has the benefit of
occupying the state's most prestigious office.
Like any campaign poll, this
one taken by Neil Newhouse, a respected Republican pollster, is a
closely guarded secret, its findings doled out selectively.
It means there is no way of
knowing whether the poll-takers additionally tested how Lee would do
by changing his name to Robert E. Lee, Bruce Lee or Wen Ho Lee, and
whether they polled a sizable sample about it or simply asked
Clifford G. Lee, the Republican state representative who has been
winning elections in Sussex County since 1990 by running as "Biff."
Bill Lee tentatively is set
to declare his candidacy on Nov. 11, when he will make four stops on
the regulation all-county swing with appearances in Wilmington and
Middletown in New Castle County, Dover in Kent County and Georgetown
in Sussex County.
It will be his second bid
for the governorship after coming within 46 votes of the 2000
nomination, which John M. Burris won instead. Burris did not leave
Lee much to build upon -- losing to Minner in all but five of the
state's 41 representative districts to carry only Republican
strongholds in Brandywine Hundred, Chateau Country, Hockessin and
Pike Creek Valley.
No doubt Lee will talk up
his education -- Wilmington Friends School, Duke University and the
University of Pennsylvania law school -- along with his military
service as a Marine and his 22 years as a judge, including the
murder trial of Thomas J. Capano that made a household name out of
William Swain Lee, or was it Bill Lee?
In any event, Lee's
background elicited an "extremely positive" response on the poll,
according to Republican State Chairman Terry A. Strine, who says he
did not personally review the results but was briefed about them.
Lee also can be expected to
focus on the status of education, the environment and jobs --
flashpoints that he said were detected by the poll and confirmed
what he already suspected about Minner's standing.
"An incumbent has to give
you a chance to win. Aside from balancing the budget -- which is a
constitutional requirement -- the governor hasn't done much," Lee
said. "If we get out and do our job, we win. Unless we get the
message out, the governor does all right. When we get the message
out, it's a huge difference."
Minner's camp was unimpressed.
"Obviously it looks like Bill
Lee is the Republican nominee. I expect he will put together a
competitive campaign committee. We'll do the same, and everybody
will be polling between now and when we do the poll that means
something -- the poll on Election Day," said Robert L. Byrd, a
lobbyist and key campaign strategist for the governor.
Democratic State Chairman
Richard H. Bayard panned the Republican optimism emanating from
"You just wonder who these
people are they talked to. Are they former Delawareans who live in
Florida? It just sounds like standard fund-raising hype to me. His
campaign kickoff is in two weeks, and he wants people to think he
has a shot so they'll give him money," Bayard said.
"I give him poetic
license. He's got an uphill battle."
Lee did follow up the poll
with two "Dear Republican" letters, one sent to potential
contributors and another to potential delegates to the Republican
state endorsing convention in the spring. He described the polling
as "very encouraging," and he also announced some of his
In addition to former Gov.
Pierre S. du Pont and Republican National Committeeman W. Laird
Stabler Jr., whose support has been public since December, Lee
listed U.S. Rep. Michael N. Castle and Republican National
Committeewoman Priscilla B. Rakestraw.
"Castle and Rakestraw are huge
statements," Lee said. Their support completes the commitments from
the party's top-tier leadership except for Strine, who has to remain
neutral until the endorsing convention.
That message, however, is
being disregarded by Michael D. Protack, the Yorklyn airline pilot
with a dogged inclination to pursue the Republican nomination
himself. "It's not going to work," he said. "I'm in it for the long
As encouraged as Lee was by
his poll, he said there was something that actually encouraged him
more -- state Sen. Karen E. Peterson's interest in challenging
Minner in a Democratic primary and the bite that Lee expects her to
"She brings the same ferocity
to politics that the governor does," Lee said.
Lee predicts he will do well
with his candidacy. "I don't think there's any great honor in
getting nominated and then killed," he said.
So it is out with William
Swain Lee and in with Bill Lee, his name replacement against the
governor's knee replacement. It will be up to the voters to sort out
what's in a name and what's in a knee.
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