The 2011 Delaware Republican Convention

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May 4, 2011: I'll be on the air with Angel Clark on WGMD 92.7 at 8 pm Eastern (7 pm Central) Listen online at

Business had taken me to Dover, Delaware, and Friday morning on my way to work, I heard a news story about the upcoming Delaware Republican State Convention. I had been wondering what to do with my weekend, had considered a trip into DC or Philadelphia, but hadn't been in touch with friends there to make any plans. It's always interesting to me to see how politics are done in other places. And given the fuss over last year's GOP Senate primary (Mike Castle vs. Christine O'Donnell), I thought there might be fireworks between the party establishment and Tea Party activists. (I was wrong about that, as it turns out.)

So I looked up the GOP convention on the web, made a call to GOP headquarters (which is in Wilmington, the state's largest city, not Dover, the state capitol) to put my name on the list, and then got in touch with Angel Clark, talk radio host and the state's top political blogger -- I met her and her husband last fall at FreedomWorks' BlogCon -- to see if they planned to attend. (As it turned out, they did, and I enjoyed getting an expert local view on the political scene.)

Although the First State is tiny, and the GOP hasn't had much success there in recent years, its Republican organization has the same representation on the Republican National Committee and the quadrennial national convention rules and platform committees as bigger and more Republican states like Texas and Oklahoma. So what happens at this Delaware gathering has national impact.

Delaware Democrats hold a 26-15 majority in the State House and a 14-7 majority in the State Senate. All of the state's congressional delegation (2 senators, 1 representative) are Democrats, as are all but one of the statewide elected officials. Only 29% of voters are registered GOP. Democrats are as dominant in Delaware as Republicans are dominant in Oklahoma. Regarding redistricting, one convention speaker said, "Unfortunately, we're in the party that has absolutely no say."

Some demographics for perspective: Delaware (1,954 sq. mi.) is slightly smaller in land area than Osage County (2,251 sq. mi.), has a population of about 900,000 -- about the same number as the Tulsa metro area. The state has three counties stacked north to south: New Castle, Kent, Sussex. The northernmost county, New Castle, has 60% of the state's population, is part of the Philadelphia metro area, and is heavily Democratic. The two southern counties are mainly rural and are the most Republican part of the state (but there are still more Ds than Rs in all three counties).

(Delaware's total area is larger than Osage County, but 21.5% of Delaware is water, as it includes a big chunk of Delaware Bay within its boundaries, vs. 2.5% of Osage County.)

Some notes from the convention:

Although several legislators spoke, none of the "big names" did. Granted the dearth of statewide elected officials, but I'd have expected at least a former senator or governor to speak.

(Former Gov. Pete DuPont was the first presidential candidate I ever gave money. Of course, he was out of the race by the time Oklahoma got to vote in 1988. DuPont was the first prominent politician to call attention to the Social Security disaster heading our way with the retirement of the Baby Boomers.)

The speeches seemed very generic, the sort of thing you might hear at any political convention -- focused on fundraising, organizing, growing the party, and beating the other guys without much discussion about why beating the other guys matters. One exception was a passionate address by Kevin Wade, candidate for the state's at-large congressional seat in 2012. A couple of favorite lines from Wade's speech:

The Party of Lincoln can't be a party of selfish interests or insider dealing.

Our purpose as Republicans is to save the nation and rebuild this country.

This debt is like a biblical plague of locusts, consuming everything we produce.

I was surprised to hear only one reference to the Tea Party -- in a seconding speech by Eric Bodenweiser for vice chairman candidate Don Ayotte. The reference received restrained applause from part of the audience. I'm guessing that the activists who won the 2011 primary for Christine O'Donnell, focusing on a Tea Party platform to defeat former Gov. Mike Castle, didn't manage to get themselves elected as delegates to the state convention. I asked a few people how one becomes a state delegate and never got a clear answer. Another guest to the convention said that in many election districts (equivalent of precincts), a husband and wife team had everything locked up. Bodenweiser also said that the time for compromising with liberals is over -- the line brought a very subdued response. In Oklahoma, it would have raised the roof.

After a few initial opening ceremonies and a couple of speeches, the convention split into seven caucuses, corresponding to the two lower counties (Kent, Sussex), and five regions (Wilmington, Brandywine, Christiana/Millcreek, Colonial, Newark) of the upper county. Instead of the candidates for state chairman and vice chairman speaking to the whole convention, each candidate spoke to each of the seven caucuses in the hour allotted for that purpose.

There were 334 delegates to the convention, probably 500 in attendance altogether. Not bad for such a small state. But the convention was much more subdued than I am used to in Oklahoma, where they have to keep the door to the convention hall shut to keep out the roar of people chatting in the corridor during speeches and vote counts. I didn't see any merchants or booths of the sort that fill the lobby at the Oklahoma convention -- no elephant ties or flag pins, no political action groups, no candidates in search of donors and volunteers.

Two of the four state party offices were contested. For chairman: John Sigler, immediate past president of the National Rifle Association vs. airline pilot Mike Protack; for vice chairman, House Minority Leader Greg LaVelle vs. Don Ayotte. Sigler seemed to be seen as a unity candidate that could bring together high-dollar donors and grassroots activists, moderates and conservatives. Sigler and LaVelle won by 5 to 1 margins.

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DelawareActivist said:


While Kevin Wade has not announced yet, I think that he is running for U.S. Senate in 2012, not Congress. He is, hands down, the best person for the job.

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