She transferred to an office job with Sherman W. Tribbitt, a state representative. When he was elected governor in 1972, he brought her along as his receptionist. And then she ran for office herself.
“I never had any intention of getting deeply involved in politics,” Ms. Minner told The Times. “But it finally got down to proving some things to myself.”
She was elected to the State House in 1974. After eight years there and nearly a decade in the State Senate, she ran for lieutenant governor in 1992, with Thomas R. Carper at the top of the ticket. They won. In 2000, after two terms as governor, Mr. Carper was elected to the U.S. Senate and Ms. Minner was elected governor, winning 60 percent of the vote.
By then, “she had become comfortable with being the only woman in the room,” Dr. Peel, her granddaughter, said in an interview. And Ms. Minner was one to stick to her guns, she said, to the point of being stubborn. When she made up her mind, there was no arguing with her.
She faced a tough re-election fight four years later; after difficult battles with the legislature and scandals involving the state police and prison system, she squeaked into her second term with 51 percent of the vote.
As Ms. Minner prepared to leave the governor’s office in 2009, Mr. Biden, who had just been elected vice president, participated in a tribute to her, at which he recalled her bruising fight to enact the ban on smoking in public places.
“When we were watching your poll numbers falling precipitously, you did not budge,” he told her. “You were willing to risk your political life to get it done.”
He added: “In this business of politics, the most important question is, what are you willing to lose over? If you can’t answer that question, then it’s all about ego and power and not about principle.”
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