Morgan Lewis' Colm F. Connolly
Morgan Lewis’ Colm F. Connolly ()

Former U.S. Attorney Colm F. Connolly has chosen not to run in this fall’s attorney general election on the Republican ticket against Lt. Gov. Matt Denn, he confirmed last week.

His decision leaves Delaware’s Republican Party with less than two months to find an opponent for Denn.

Connolly, who is currently the managing partner of Morgan, Lewis & Bockius’ Wilmington office, told Delaware Law Weekly he had considered running for attorney general, but cited family concerns as the reason he will not pursue the opening in the November election.

“Ultimately, it was for family reasons,” Connolly told DLW. “My wife and I have four children and they are teenagers. Three of them are in high school and one is starting college this fall. It wasn’t the right time for me to plunge into politics.”

When asked if he would consider running for attorney general in a future election, Connolly said he was leaving his options open.

“I’m not ruling out a return to public life, although I’m very much enjoying myself at Morgan Lewis,” he said.

Delaware Grapevine, an online news blog, was first to report Connolly’s decision.

Connolly was viewed as the heavy favorite to be the Republican attorney general candidate. When current Attorney General Beau Biden announced last month that he would not pursue reelection in November to focus on running for governor in 2016, several sources said Connolly would be the Republicans’ best option.

Former Gov. Mike Castle, a Republican, who is now a partner at DLA Piper’s Wilmington office, said Connolly would have been the GOP’s strongest candidate in November, but is confident the party will nominate a well-qualified individual.

“Colm would have been my first choice,” Castle told DLW. “He would have been an ideal candidate. I don’t know if it is a blow, but it doesn’t help. You won’t find anyone with Colm’s resume in either party, but it’s not the end of the world.”

The filing deadline for candidates to be eligible for the November election is July 8, leaving the Republican Party with less than two months to find a candidate.

John Fluharty, executive director of the Delaware Republican Committee, said the party has already reached out to other prospective candidates.

“We are talking to a number of folks right now, some of whom are prosecutors and immensely qualified for the position,” he said, hinting that his party’s strategy will be to attack Denn’s lack of prosecutorial experience. “We hope to have an announcement soon.”

Castle agreed the GOP’s best strategy is to nominate someone with a prosecution and criminal justice background.

“It is important to find someone who has either prosecutorial or criminal defense experience who understands the Attorney General’s Office,” he said. “If we find that candidate, they will be a strong contrast to Matt Denn. I’m sure Matt is a competent guy, but he doesn’t have the experience that is necessary for that office.”

When asked for a response to Castle’s assertion about his prosecutorial background, Denn said that good judgment is the most important asset for an attorney general.

“While the attorney general doesn’t directly prosecute cases, he is responsible for making decisions that affect the lives of thousands of Delawareans,” Denn said. “I successfully led the Department of Insurance in many fights on behalf of Delaware consumers and I have been a strong advocate for victims and increased public safety as chair of the Criminal Justice Council. I have also litigated cases in every court in this state, including representing children who were subjected to horrible abuse.”

Both Fluharty and Castle declined to name any potential candidates. Sources contacted by DLW also struggled to identify potential candidates for the Republican ticket.

Some sources had mentioned Ferris Wharton, who unsuccessfully opposed Biden in the 2006 election. Wharton currently works in the Public Defender’s Office and is said to have applied to succeed Superior Court Judge Charles H. Toliver IV, who retired last month. He said he will not run again for attorney general in the November election.

Wharton also cautioned that the impact of Connolly’s decision will be better measured after the GOP finds its candidate.

“I have the highest regard for Colm,” he said. “I don’t know who the Republican candidate will be, but that will determine how big of a loss it would be not having Colm on the ticket.”

In 2010, the Republican Party did not nominate a candidate and an unopposed Biden cruised to an overwhelming victory. Fluharty said 2014 will not be a repeat of the previous attorney general race.

“We intend to have a candidate in the race and we intend to win the race,” he said.

However, with the July 8 deadline looming, many wonder if the Republican Party will have enough time to select and promote a candidate to challenge Denn before the heavy campaigning season starts.
”Two months is plenty of time to find a candidate,” Castle said. “In terms of name recognition, that’s a more difficult question. If we nominate a young candidate who has not handled headline-type cases, that’s not going to happen between now and July 8. The expectation of a recognizable name, I think, diminishes with Colm out of the race, but the party is starting to look at a lot of people.”

While the Republicans still search for their candidate, it looks like Denn will not face any challengers to become the Democratic nominee. Chief State Prosecutor Kathleen Jennings, who was viewed by many as a strong attorney general candidate, announced that she will not launch a campaign for the position. Jennings’ decision leaves the Democratic Party without serious opposition, if any, to Denn in the primary.

In fact, the Delaware General Assembly is already preparing for the possibility of a Denn victory. Republicans in the state Senate last week introduced a bill that would require a special election to fulfill the last two years on Denn’s term as lieutenant governor. Senate Minority Leader Gary Simpson, R-Milford, introduced the bill, saying that nothing in the Delaware Constitution addresses the possibility of a lieutenant governor leaving office before his or her term expires. It is not known when the legislature will vote on the measure.

Jeff Mordock can be contacted at 215-557-2485 or jmordock@alm.com. Follow him on Twitter @JeffMordockTLI.