Monday, February 4, 2008
WILMINGTON, Del. -- On cold winter days, this small state's beach houses and country clubs are mostly abandoned, so the politically connected go to local haunts such as the Kozy Korner Restaurant. Lawyers, accountants, and Democratic and Republican party operatives order the hard-fried eggs and scrapple served up the same as they have been for decades by owner Nick Vouras, whose father opened the beloved hole-in-the-wall 86 years ago.
"This is our country club," said the state's Republican national committeewoman, Priscilla B. Rakestraw, 65, as she stepped out of the rain on a recent morning. Vouras greeted her with a bear hug that lifted her boots off the ground.
Rakestraw, who lined up hard behind former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, needed the pick-me-up. Like many Republicans at the Kozy Korner, she was shocked by Giuliani's drubbing in Florida. For months, after putting in a full day's work, she had gone to Giuliani's headquarters to make hundreds of phone calls on his behalf.
"Now I've got to start over," said Rakestraw, one of those unsure of whom to back with Giuliani out of the race.
Giuliani was the only Republican candidate to open an office here. He knew that he fit Wilmington's profile. The city prides itself on being a bastion of moderation, and its Republicans tend to be fiscally conservative and socially moderate. Giuliani's kind of crowd. Plus, they knew what he had done.
"We visit New York from time to time, and we could see the difference when he was mayor," said Rakestraw's friend, Michael Uffner, 62, who owns three auto dealerships in town. "You didn't have the people in the train station that would be begging. You could see a physical difference when he became mayor. We knew about . . . all the scandals associated with his wives and all that. With 9/11, we just sort of bonded when he was the face of the rescue effort. We just liked him. Now, we're sort of in the middle. By Tuesday I guess we have to make up our minds."
Uffner has been too busy trying to sell Cadillacs and Saabs in a slowing economy to pick a candidate for Tuesday.
Putting her meal on hold, Rakestraw waved over Ann Taylor Tansey, 63, who was sipping coffee in a corner booth with husband Bill, 71.
"There's no home for me in the Republican Party," said Tansey, a partner in a local accounting firm. "I would never switch, but I am unhappy about the way things are going. I have to give a lot of my beliefs up to vote Republican."
The couple committed to Giuliani early on. Years ago, she was active in the National Organization for Women, calling herself "their token Republican."
"I support a woman's right to choose and stem cell research," Tansey added.
Giuliani would have allowed her to vote Republican with a clear conscience. Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney and former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee are too socially conservative for the Tanseys.
"We're both thinking [John] McCain," she said.
Even Pierre S. "Pete" duPont IV, the state's political godfather, former governor and onetime presidential candidate, is unsure what to do now that Giuliani is out.
"I'm just undecided," duPont said. "I have to take another look at their tax policies."
Rakestraw plans to back McCain and guesses that most Giuliani supporters will do the same.
There is one "bottom line," she said. "A.B.H. That's Anything But Hillary."