Sussex delegation rocks state Republican convention

May 1, 2012

“Sussex rocks!”

That was the unlikely theme of Sussex County Republicans meeting Saturday for the state convention at Rehoboth Beach Convention Hall.

How did Sussex Republicans rock the convention? Let me count the ways:

• They had the largest delegation.

• They were the best organized.

• And, perhaps most important, they kept shouting “Sussex rocks!”

Judging from the candidates’ speeches, they feel that if only Kent and New Castle Republicans would “rock” like their pumped-up southern neighbors, the party would - in an often-heard phrase - “take back the state.”

Saturday morning at Rehoboth Convention Hall might not sound like the height of hoopla, but it was festive, with lots of colorful banners and signs - and campaign workers who tried to affix their candidate’s stickers to your shirt.

It was my first convention. I’ve been hearing about caucuses in Iowa and other states for years and it always sounded like a mysterious process.

Fortunately, Kim Hoey Stevenson of Milford, state secretary of the Delaware Republican Party, was there to give me some background.

Delaware Republicans are divided into five regions, three from New Castle County and one each from Kent and Sussex. For the caucus, the regions split up, with each going to a separate section of convention hall. Statewide candidates make the rounds, giving five-minute speeches to each caucus about why the delegates should vote for them.

After the individual caucuses, the delegates come back to the main hall and start nominating, seconding, and finally voting on which candidates the party will support.

First, though, they had to take roll call - just like school, only longer and more raucous.

“We’ll be playing musical chairs for a while,” said county Republican Chairman Jerry Wood, as he checked off who was present and made sure they were seated in the correct row. He was assisted by county Republican secretary Carol Bodine.

Wood handled the roll call with good humor, gently chiding those delegates who insisted on standing up.

“Will you seat down, please?” he directed one wayward delegate, following that up with, “Man! That felt good!” after the man did as he was told. You wouldn’t have known that Wood became chair only a few months ago, following a nasty party battle.

Among those Wood sat down was Steve Wode of Bethany Beach. Wode is a relative newcomer to party politics, this being his second convention. He said he first became active in politics after Congress passed the economic stimulus bill. When that happened, he said, he went “went through the roof” and began yelling at the TV.

He also got more involved. In addition to being a delegate this past weekend, he is a regular at Legislative Hall, spending each Tuesday through Thursday monitoring the General Assembly.

Here’s the slate the party will officially back for the November elections: Jeff Cragg for governor; Kevin Wade, U.S. Senate; Tom Kovach, U.S. Congress; Sher Valenzuela, lieutenant governor; and Ben Mobley, insurance commissioner.

Only two races, however, were contested. Kovach was challenged by Rose Izzo of Wilmington and Mobley by James Van Houten of Bear.

In both cases, the better speaker was chosen, with Kovach and Mobley outshining their opponents.

The candidates’ favorite target was Obamacare, but mostly they stressed party unity and their reasons for running. But no convention is complete without a little red meat. On Saturday, it was supplied by Wade, the Delaware Republican most given to Newt Gingrich-style invective.

Instead of the strong, decisive, common sense leadership the country needed, he said, we got “radical ideology.”

“We have people in Dover, and in Washington, who are silly people doing silly things,” Wade said.

The Sussex delegates loved it.

“Nicely put,” said one. “Amen,” said another.

Wade also referenced a religion-tinged fight that recently roiled the nation’s politics.

Describing himself as a mainstream Methodist who attends a country church, he said, voice rising, “But now we all have to be Catholics, because when the government comes after one group today, they come after each of us in turn. That’s why all of us have to stand together to stop this.”

The speech played very well before this audience, which responded with a sustained and boisterous standing ovation.

God and country was another theme of the convention, with delegates reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, listening to an extending benediction based on the “Our Father” and to a recording of the “Star Spangled Banner,” after which everybody clapped just like at a ball game.

Mary Spicer led the pledge, specifying beforehand that there was to be no comma after the word “nation.”

In other words it was to be “one nation under God,” and not “one nation, under God.” I’ve been saying the Pledge of Allegiance for almost 50 years and never been so instructed.

I know, of course, that the phrase “under God” - which was added by Congress in 1954 - has occasionally surfaced as a wedge issue (though I haven’t heard much about it recently). But this was the first suggestion I’d heard that the comma itself might become a subject that divides the nation.

Hopefully, this fall’s election will be about more than commas.

  • A number of accomplished writers will be appearing in the Politics column every Tuesday on a rotating basis to explore the dynamic world of politics at the local, county, state, national and world levels.

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