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Political Landscape in Delaware is Largely Homegrown

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This state could be called Hotel Delaware, as the old rock song goes.

People check in and they never leave.

It is surprisingly true for political operatives, a notoriously nomadic bunch. They are the modern mercenaries, ready to go wherever there is a campaign.

This is opposed to the candidates themselves. In Delaware and pretty much everywhere, the candidates tend to be homegrown.

A lot about this country has been reconstructed since Reconstruction, but carpetbaggers are one of those things that are still unreconstructed.

Native-wise in Delaware, most of the top officeholders are.

Jack Markell and Matt Denn, the Democratic governor and lieutenant governor, are from here, and so is Beau Biden, the Democratic attorney general, even if he is also the son of the most famous Delawarean to arrive here in his youth from Scranton, Pa.

Of all the statewide officials, the one who always seems especially proud of his deep roots in the state is John Carney, the Democratic congressman. He calls himself a “Claymonster,” a name for a kid from Claymont.

The senators, both of them Democrats, are the exceptions.

Chris Coons moved to Delaware when he was in the first grade. This is about as homegrown as it gets without actually being homegrown. Besides, anyone who makes his start in politics at the really, really local level, as Coons did as the New Castle County Council president and county executive, can expect to get a pass on not being from here.

That leaves Tom Carper as the one true transplant. He did not land in the state until he finished a tour in the Navy and went to graduate school at the University of Delaware. It makes him one of the people who checked in and never left.

It is one thing to be a senator who was not born in Delaware. Senators by definition are a little removed, anyway, with all of that “upper house” stuff and originally being elected by the state legislatures.

Before Carper and Coons, there were Joe Biden and Bill Roth, the five-term Republican, as well as Ted Kaufman, the Democrat who was appointed when Biden was elected vice president. All of them came here from somewhere else. It means the last truly homegrown senator was J. Caleb Boggs, the Republican who lost in the famous upset to Biden more than 40 years ago, way back in 1972.

It is something else to be a governor who was not born in Delaware. Here is where Carper, who cycled through West Virginia, Virginia and Ohio, really accomplished something of a political feat.

Look at the last five governors. Carper stands out as the only transplant, sandwiched between Pete du Pont and Mike Castle, homegrown Republicans, and Ruth Ann Minner and Jack Markell, homegrown Democrats.

Bert Carvel, the Democratic governor elected after World War II, actually fretted about his out-of-state origins and tried to fudge them. He figured out it was politically acceptable to be from over the line in Maryland, where his father’s family was from, so he used to talk that up to avoid mentioning he was actually born on Long Island, home to his mother’s side.

Political operatives are different. They tend to show up without a thought of checking in. Except here in Delaware, the state can really grab them.

On the Democratic side, there is Erik Raser-Schramm, a top operative, who grew up in upstate New York, went out to Colorado, and fetched up here as a recruiter for Americorps VISTA, the national anti-poverty organization. That was 12 years ago.

Raser-Schramm got to know Dave Sokola, a Democratic state senator, who asked him to run his campaign. Then it was on to work for Minner, and then Markell when he was the treasurer, and then Bob Gilligan, who was the Democratic speaker. Soon enough, Raser-Schramm was married to Jonathan Raser-Schramm, the medical director for stroke treatment at Christiana Care, and they were buying a farm outside Townsend and planning to have kids.

Erik Raser-Schramm went so far as to name his political consulting firm the “Twelve Seven Group,” which Delawareans ought to be able to figure out signifies the date Delaware became the first state when it ratified the U.S. Constitution on Dec. 7 (12/7) in 1787. That is as Delaware as it gets.

“When you invest that much blood, sweat and tears in a place, you want to see it continue to flourish,” Raser-Schramm says.

On the Republican side, John Fluharty has surprisingly stayed put for the second election in a row as the party’s executive director. This was after 20 years of political work that took him to Connecticut and Washington, D.C., and around the world to places like Indonesia and Bangladesh. He was working on Newt Gingrich’s Republican presidential campaign in 2012 when it fizzled right here, and while Gingrich went on his way, Fluharty stuck around.

“I love it here. More than any other place I’ve worked—the personalities, the people, everything about it I love,” Fluharty says.

So how do people know when they have become real Delawareans? Beyond coming up with a name like the “Twelve Seven Group”? They can answer questions like this:

1) What are the five ferds? These are places that end in “ford,” pronounced “ferd.”

Answer: Brenford, Frankford, Middleford, Milford and Seaford.

2) What are The Square, The Green and The Circle, and what do they have in common?

Answer: They are the defining hubs of the three county seats, Rodney Square in Wilmington in New Castle County, The Green in Dover in Kent County, and The Circle in Georgetown in Sussex County.

3) Who is not a du Pont?

a) Pete du Pont, the former Republican governor

b) Charlie Copeland, the Republican state chair

c) Rick Bayard, the former Democratic state chair

d) Henry duPont Ridgely, the Supreme Court justice

e) Laird Stabler, the Republican national committeeman

Answer: For someone who does not know, it would be tempting to guess Rick Bayard, as the only Democrat in the group, but it would be wrong. Bayard’s father was Alexis I. du Pont Bayard, who was once a Democratic lieutenant governor. (The Bayards are Democrats.)

The correct answer is Henry duPont Ridgely. Although he comes from an old Delaware family that settled here in the 18th century, his only connection to the du Ponts is through his great-great-great Aunt Ann Ridgely, who married into the family. The variant spelling of “duPont” without the space should have been the tipoff.

One more thing about political operatives turning themselves into Delawareans. They really ought to have a local cell phone number.

This means you, John Fluharty.

The Republican executive director is still wedded to one with a (202) D.C. area code. If anybody runs into him, tell him to get with (302).    

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