Talk is turning to the Delaware governor’s race

 Beau Biden (File/NewsWorks)

Beau Biden (File/NewsWorks)

NewsWorks contributor Doug Rainey considers Delaware’s political prospects.

Here are Doug’s thoughts:

As Gov. Jack Markell heads toward the end of his second and final term, talk is turning to the governor’s race, especially as the search for Markell’s successor remains wide open.

We have Lt. Gov. Matt Denn and Rep. John Carney as qualified Democratic candidates in a heavily-blue state. Carney would have become governor had an ambitious state treasurer (Markell) not leapt to the front of the line by winning the primary.

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In addition, Newark-area State Sen. Bryan Townsend is widely believed to have statewide ambitions.

On the Republican side, the picture is less focused. GOP candidates face formidable obstacles, given the voter registration edge enjoyed by Democrats.

State Sen. Greg Lavelle and printing-company owner (and du Pont family member) Charles Copeland are likely contenders. Another possibility is first-term State Sen. Ernie Lopez from Sussex County. 

Enter Biden

And, of course, there’s Democrat Beau Biden, the rock star of Delaware politics.

By all indications, Biden seemed to be headed for a third term as attorney general. That changed when Biden announced that he would not seek reelection,

In true Beau fashion, he remained out of public view after the announcement, irritating local media and others. The lack of access might have hindered any other candidate, but Biden knows that the national media is only a phone call away.

We should not have been surprised: Beau seems determined to take a path that does not mirror his father’s rise from the obscurity of the New Castle County Council to a senior leadership position in the U.S. Senate and, ultimately, to the vice presidency.

When he is on the public stage, Beau comes off as a quiet, reflective man. It’s the opposite of the “crazy uncle” image that surrounds his father and spawns sketches on Saturday Night Live.

You might remember that his father’s senate seat was basically reserved in Beau’s name: Former Biden aide Ted Kaufman served briefly in the position after the elder Biden assumed the vice presidency.

But instead of vying for the vacancy caused by his father’s elevation, Beau, who could have taken on Rep. Mike Castle in a difficult-but-winnable race, stayed on as attorney general and compiled a solid record.

The vacated Senate seat ended up in the hands of then-New Castle County Executive Chris Coons, who coasted to an easy victory over Christine O’Donnell. It was O’Donnell who staged a shocking primary upset over Castle and allowed Coons to coast to victory.

Challenges ahead

But not all is rosy for the attorney general. Biden is bedeviled by a lawsuit filed by the former wife of du Pont family member Robert Richards IV, who avoided jail time despite a conviction for sexually abusing one of his children.

The complex case brought out deep-seated resentments against both the du Pont family and the company of the same name. Worse yet, it led to talk that Biden and others in the criminal justice system had protected a “one-percenter.”

The task of deciphering Beau’s intentions was left to his brother, Hunter, who raised a few eyebrows when he stopped short of declaring on an MSNBC appearance that Beau would run for governor.

Indeed, a look at the press release announcing Beau’s intentions left some room to maneuver. This fueled speculation that the normally-cautious attorney general was buying himself time to sort out the political landscape, even though he would be the odds-on favorite to win the race for governor.

Could Beau zig-zag again? It’s not out of the question. We have before us an individual not driven by conventional political wisdom.

The mystery surrounding Beau makes it difficult to determine what his administration might look like. Equally mysterious was his clandestine trip to a Houston-based cancer center.

The business community is wary given Biden’s emphasis on consumer protection issues, which clashes with the state’s powerful financial-services industry. Moreover, with his public-sector career, Biden has no track record in economic development and business issues.

While Beau attempts to distance his political aspirations from those of his father, it is hard to imagine that he does not realize the importance of key industries in the state. That may be of little comfort for small businesses that might confront his regulatory zeal.

Meanwhile, Denn quickly filed papers to run for attorney general.

The countdown begins for Beau 2016; he reportedly won’t talk about the state’s top post until his term as attorney general ends. Political junkies will have months to ponder the possibilities.

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