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Although two years have elapsed since Thomas J. Capano’s riveting murder trial, fame has yet to flee from Colm F. Connolly, the ex-prosecutor who tried the case, and William Swain Lee, the retired Delaware Superior Court judge who presided and then ran for governor. Today they are regarded as two of the more intriguing political prospects in the Delaware Republican Party — at a time when the state GOP’s fortunes otherwise have drooped after a bedraggled showing in the 2000 election. Connolly, now a partner at Morris Nichols Arsht & Tunnell in Wilmington, Del., appears to be the leading candidate to be appointed as the U.S. attorney for Delaware in the Bush administration. It is a post that would make him the head of the office where he worked while on special assignment with the state to prosecute Capano. Lee is mentioned in political circles as a potential challenger in 2004 against Ruth Ann Minner, the newly installed Democratic governor, or more immediately for a top party post, perhaps Republican state chairman or national committeeman. The continuing focus on Connolly and Lee reflects the public goodwill they share for their roles in the trial, popularly seen as stopping Capano, a wealthy and well-connected lawyer, from getting away with murder. The conviction and death sentence for killing Anne Marie Fahey, the gubernatorial scheduler, remain on appeal. LIFE-CHANGING EVENT “It was a phenomenon that was unique. It certainly changed my life, and I loved my old life,” Lee said. While political parties are known for snapping up celebrity figures, the Republican interest also arises from the discontent of a party searching for ways to remake itself after losing the presidential vote here, the governorship for the third consecutive election and U.S. Sen. William V. Roth Jr. after 34 years. Without new blood that can appeal across party lines, the state Republicans are up against a daunting display of demographics. As Wilmington attorney Glenn C. Kenton pointed out in a recent state GOP newsletter, the Democrats are winning here by holding their traditional base of union and minority voters and capturing the swing voters who hold the balance of power. Those swing voters are urban/suburban residents, largely young working couples or single and divorced women, attracted to Democratic positions on abortion rights, gun control and the environment. “If you’re a Northeast Republican — urban and suburban — I don’t see how it’s going to work, unless George Bush changes the whole dynamic,” said Kenton, a former secretary of state who practices at Richards Layton & Finger. “Without popular incumbents, I don’t know how you win.” Although an appointment with the U.S. Justice Department would take Connolly out of politics, it would be not only a r�sum� builder but an indication that the GOP leadership views him as a prime candidate for some future statewide office. At 36, Connolly is a rare find for his party. It has watched while the Democrats spent the last two election cycles launching their next generation with the likes of Lt. Gov. John C. Carney Jr., state Treasurer Jack A. Markell and New Castle County Council President Christopher A. Coons, counsel at W.L. Gore & Associates Inc. If Connolly is the future, Lee is a throwback. Now 65, Lee got serious about politics as a Goldwater Republican in the mid-1960s, but after 22 years on the Family and Superior courts in Sussex County, he has been recycled as a fresh personality. It hasn’t hurt Lee’s image that he managed to recast himself from insider to outsider, not only because of his performance during Capano’s trial but also because he very nearly toppled John M. Burris, the business establishment’s candidate, in the Republican primary for governor. Exactly how these two courtroom figures shape a future in politics remains to be seen. At the moment Connolly’s next steps are clearer than Lee’s. In an interview last week, Connolly acknowledged he was a candidate for U.S. attorney, the federal government’s chief law enforcement officer in the state. It is a four-year post currently paying about $125,000 a year. CONNOLLY INTERESTED IN POST “I’ve spoken with people from the [Bush] transition team, and I’m certainly interested in the position,” Connolly said. His prospects appear high because of the reception he has received from influential Republicans of local note — including National Committeeman W. Laird Stabler Jr., and Frank A. Ursomarso, a formidable channel to the administration because of longtime ties to Vice President Richard B. Cheney. Stabler, a former attorney general who was the U.S. attorney himself in the 1970s, rated Connolly’s credentials superior to his own. “Colm is a shining star in the future of the Republican Party,” Stabler said. “He’s obviously shown he can do it. He’s probably the best applicant we’ve ever had.” Ursomarso called Connolly an “attractive candidate.” Ursomarso, the president of Union Park Automotive Group Inc., with a string of car dealerships on Pennsylvania Avenue in Wilmington, is versed in the ways of White House. He was an advanceman in the Nixon administration, a staff assistant in the Ford administration when Cheney was chief of staff and director of communications in the Reagan administration. While Cheney was in Philadelphia last summer for the Republican National Convention, he stayed at Ursomarso’s home in Chadds Ford, Pa. It is unclear how long it will take for Delaware to have a new U.S. attorney, and it could take some time. Customarily there is a lag before a new Cabinet officer fills the outlying posts, but this one could be longer than usual because of various complications. One twist is that the state Republicans have yet to settle on a method for recommending candidates to the new administration. Recommendations traditionally are funneled through the U.S. senator of the same party as the president, but for the first time since the 1960s, Delaware doesn’t have one. Party leaders expect to work something out with U.S. Rep. Michael N. Castle, the only Republican in the three-member congressional delegation, but it hasn’t happened yet. “I don’t know for sure exactly how it’s going to play out,” Castle said. “Not only are you missing two senators, you’re missing a governor, too.” SCHNEE COULD HANG ON Another twist is that Carl Schnee, the current U.S. attorney, is not an easy Democrat to discard because he happens to be Castle’s old law partner. Furthermore, there is a recent precedent for letting a U.S. attorney stay for a time, despite the arrival of a new party in the White House. With the approval of U.S. Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., in 1993, Clinton’s Democratic administration left in William C. Carpenter Jr., a Republican, until he became a Superior Court judge that October. Castle clearly is uncomfortable with the situation. “I do know the players well. Obviously Carl is an excellent U.S. attorney. Certainly Colm Connolly is an excellent candidate,” he said. “As to who when, I don’t have a grip on it at this point.” While the title but not the timing is in focus for Connolly, neither is for Lee. He has said he would like another shot at the governorship, but in the meantime, he also finds himself asked by party activists whether he would consider the posts of state chairman or national committeeman. “I suppose all of those things are possible, and at one time or another they have been discussed,” Lee said. “There is an impetus for change in the Republican Party. We just got a bad whipping.” Becoming state chairman would be a battle. The current two-year term of Basil R. Battaglia expires this spring, and although he has turned into a lightning rod for disgruntled Republicans dismayed by the 2000 election results, he has every intention of running again for the party’s top job, which he has held since 1988. Lee repeatedly has said it would take an unusual set of circumstances, such as a grassroots draft, for him to accept the state chairmanship, but he hasn’t ruled it out. Meanwhile, the opposition to Battaglia has yet to coalesce. While Lee is being wooed, so is fellow Sussex Countian J. Everett Moore Jr., a former party vice chairman who practices law at Moore & Rutt in Georgetown. Moore says he is interested but has yet to decide whether to pursue it. Lee also has been mentioned for national committeeman, responsible for representing the Delaware GOP at the national level along with the national committeewoman and state chairman. While Stabler’s four-year term doesn’t end until 2004, there has been speculation he may not serve it out. In an interview Stabler was disinclined to discuss it. Whatever happens, Lee expects to be around. “I’m reluctant to retire to a warm beach and learn to play golf,” he said.

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