A contrast in styles: thoughts on the Delaware primary election

I do not live in the First State of Delaware, but I work there as does my wife. So despite the fact I have no vote in the process, to me tomorrow’s primary is important enough to devote a post to. As originally intended, I had a pair of questions to ask of each of the four gubernatorial candidates regarding development and job creation that I sought their answer to so I e-mailed them to each candidate and listed it as a press inquiry. For the record, I only received a response from the campaign of Republican Colin Bonini asking for my phone number to do an interview. But I decided that wouldn’t be right to be that one-sided, nor am I a great fan of not having answers in writing. So this piece became more of a general overview.

In a political sense, Delaware is a lot like Maryland: dominated by Democrats who live in one heavily-populated area of the state, while the downstate area is more Republican and conservative. To buttress that point, Democratic gubernatorial candidate (and current Congressman) John Carney was born and lives in the Wilmington area while the two Republicans facing off to oppose him, State Senator Colin Bonini and businesswoman Lacey Lafferty, live in Kent and Sussex counties, respectively.

And in John Carney you also have a Ivy League liberal who’s been in government for most of his adult life as an appointee who moved up to Lieutenant Governor for two terms but was defeated in his effort to succeed his “boss” (in a manner of speaking, since the positions are elected separately in Delaware) in the 2008 Democratic primary by current Governor Jack Markell. Undaunted, John just waited until the opening came in 2010 to run for Congress since then-Rep. Mike Castle opted to run for the Senate seat that opened up when Joe Biden became Vice President. (The seat had a placeholder appointee until the 2010 election, which was to finish the last four years of Biden’s term. This was the primary Castle lost to Christine O’Donnell.) John Carney won the Delaware Congressional seat Castle was vacating and probably would have been happy to stay in Congress except that Joe Biden’s son Beau, who was the odds-on favorite to run for and win Delaware’s highest office in 2016, passed away from cancer last year. So Carney seems to be the recipient of the “Delaware Way” of particular officeholders cycling between political jobs.

One thing I noticed in taking a cursory read of Carney’s campaign site: he uses the word “invest” a lot. Those in the know realize this means a LOT more government spending and that, to me, is bad for business. Higher taxes aren’t the way to attract the clientele that keeps my employer going, either.

But the winner of the GOP primary faces the long odds of trying to overcome Carney, who has name recognition aplenty and will certainly be burning up our local airwaves in the next couple months since Salisbury (and Rehoboth Beach, where the local NBC affiliate’s broadcast orignates) is actually the TV market serving southern Delaware.

It’s a contest between a man who has been in political office since 1994 (and was elected at the age of 24, meaning he has spent nearly half his life in office) and a woman who apparently began her run almost as soon as the votes were counted from the 2012 gubernatorial election.

Colin BoniniThere are definitely some things to like about Colin Bonini: he has the good idea to make Delaware a right-to-work state and would encourage the streamlining of state government by offering longtime employees an early retirement package. Legislatively, he has ranked as the most conservative legislator in the Senate (although out of 21 that may not be the greatest achievement.) However, he has the luxury of running from cover as his legislative seat isn’t up for election this time and, quite frankly, this may not be the year for entrenched politicians on the Republican side.

At least that’s what Lacey Lafferty is hoping for. Now I have heard Lafferty on the radio a couple times (since I often listen to Delaware talk radio) and she seems to have the political style people associate with Donald Trump insofar as running as an outsider. (Like Trump, she was once a Democrat, too.) And the rhetoric isn’t far off, either:

Sen. Bonini is the choice of the establishment, but Ms. Lafferty believes she will win.

She’s been critical of her primary opponent, referring to him on Twitter as “lazy” and a “buffoon.” Sen. Bonini represents part of a failed political culture, Ms. Lafferty said, noting he did not officially unveil his campaign until recently.

“This is what people are sick of,” she said. “They’re tired of this. They want somebody that they can depend upon.”

Sen. Bonini has referred to her as a “fringe candidate,” and more recently, he stressed Republican voters should select the person with “the best chance to win in November.”

As of Aug. 14, he had about $66,000 on hand, while Ms. Lafferty had $4,400.

Delaware State University professor Sam Hoff foresees Ms. Lafferty pulling in about 15 percent of the primary vote, largely from more left-leaning Republicans.

Apparently there aren’t a lot of polls done in Delaware, but the poll I did find has the race at 29-22 Bonini. And since I have heard Lafferty identify with Trump on several occasions, I don’t think she would be tLafferty signhe choice of “left-leaning” Republicans.

I have to give credit to Lafferty for working hard to build a grassroots campaign, with the best philosophical idea I noted from her being that of stressing vocational education. I agree that not all students are college material, but those who can work with their hands and aren’t afraid of a little effort can succeed quite well in life. She has quite the distinctive yard signs, too. (Don Murphy would hate them but you have to admit they are artistic.) And I see quite a few of them driving around Sussex County.

So Republican voters of Delaware have an interesting choice to make tomorrow for governor. They can pick the candidate who has lots of experience in lawmaking and owns a very conservative voting record; someone who is likely perceived as the safe choice but may not have the appeal for people to cross party lines.

Or they can select someone who is, to be honest, more of a wild card. We have no idea whether she will be polished on the stump or self-destruct when the people begin to pay attention. It’s possible she was a tough-talking conservative the entire campaign but finds out there’s not the waste, fraud, and abuse she thinks there is in state government – not to mention has to deal with Bonini as a state senator who would have to push her agenda.

I would be remiss if I didn’t note there will be other candidates on the November gubernatorial ballot, including Libertarian Sean Goward – who may be hoping for a boost from the national ticket with Gary Johnson polling in the high single digits. Goward hasn’t been one to update his website much, though.

On the other hand, the contest for Lieutenant Governor is solely on the Democratic side, as La Mar Gunn is the only GOP stalwart to run. (He’s best known for “losing” the Kent County Recorder of Deeds race in 2014 by two votes – the first recount that the Democratic incumbent Betty McKenna won after Gunn won on Election Day by two votes and won two recounts by similar – but not those exact – margins.) Between the six candidates on the Democratic ballot (Sherry Dorsey Walker, Brad Eaby, Greg Fuller, Bethany Hall-Long, Kathy McGuiness, and Ciro Poppiti) you find varying levels of political experience but more or less the same amount of liberalism – basically peas in a pod.

There’s also a Congressional race with one Republican (Hans Reigle), one Libertarian (Scott Gesty), and (again) six Democrats – Sean Barney, Mike Miller, Lisa Blunt Rochester, Bryan Townsend, Scott Walker, and Elias Weir. In looking through their positions, this November you can decide between Reigle, who seems to me a right-of-center sort who would probably fall midway between the most conservative and liberal Republicans in Congress, the fairly classic small-government, non-interventionist Libertarian Gesty, and the Democrat who will be way left of center whoever he or she is. Again, peas in a pod.

I’m not involved with the Delaware Republican Party, but it seems to me they have a harder time getting candidates than even our loony-bin left state of Maryland does. In one respect this prevents bitter primary fights, but there’s also the aspect of leaving rank-and-file voters out of the decision. Between the statewide races this year (governor, lieutenant governor, insurance commissioner, and Congressman) the Republicans only have six candidates on the ballot. Democrats match that in either of two prominent races. Note that the voter registration numbers are less dire in the First State compared to Maryland – in Delaware only 48% are Democrats, 28% Republican, and 24% “others.” (There are more Democrats in New Castle County, however, than Republicans or “others” in the entire state.)

Unlike Maryland politics, I look at the situation in Delaware as an interested observer rather than an erstwhile participant because, as I said up top, I work in the state. But as one who lives across the Transpeninsular Line I think I speak for the people of Delaware who want their state to succeed. Above all, I want it to be attractive to new residents and prosperous for those already there because that helps to make my paycheck, so vote wisely in the primary.

Nasty infighting in the Second

So State Senator Nancy Jacobs followed through on what she said she would do and announced this week she would run for the Second Congressional District seat currently held by Dutch Ruppersberger, a politician who she claims “left for Washington (and) became Washington.” Indeed, she has some interesting endorsements already.

But there’s one Republican who’s less than thrilled. According to an article in the Towson Patch, Jacobs is being called a “puppet candidate” by Delegate Pat McDonough. Pat claims that Jacobs is only running at the behest of First District Congressman Andy Harris, saying, “(Jacobs is) a puppet for Harris.”

While McDonough is also making news by spearheading the campaign to overturn the Maryland DREAM Act, last summer he had floated the idea of seeking the Second Congressional District seat himself, even hosting a fundraiser with 2010 Delaware U.S. Senate candidate Christine O’Donnell. Just a few weeks later, he turned on a dime and flirted with the idea of instead running for the U.S. Senate. In this case, McDonough speaks like a fellow Congressional candidate, but I daresay he’s not making any friends among area Republicans by eschewing a pair of races then disparaging one of the hopefuls he has to work with in the Maryland General Assembly. Obviously we’ll know for sure next week if Pat will follow through on one of his original 2012 plans or stay with the DREAM Act fight.

But even if Delegate McDonough is right and Harris does have something to do with Nancy’s entry into the race, that’s a good job of candidate recruitment more Republicans should be following. Who has Pat McDonough brought into the fold?

Just like in the Sixth Congressional District, I don’t have a dog in this fight. But Nancy does introduce herself to new voters reasonably well:

Last year Nancy scored an impressive 92 on the monoblogue Accountability Project, earning the distinction of being a Legislative All-Star for the first time. She has a lifetime (since 2007) rating of 77, which puts her about in the middle of the GOP Senate pack. Ironically, McDonough has a lifetime rating of 78 and was a Legislative All-Star in 2009, meaning they’re fairly similar in political style.

But it’s clear which one has the bull in the china shop mentality.

New Delaware links

Apparently it was a hot time in Sussex County last night – and we thought the battle for Chair here in Maryland between the establishment and TEA Party was intense. But given the venom which still exists after the entire Christine O’Donnell and Mike Castle primary last September (five months ago!), I’m doubtful we here in Maryland have anything on the First State.

Obviously I’m looking at this as an outside observer, but thanks to Chris Slavens (who I already link to) I found a few other link-worthy sites across the Transpeninsular Line – check out DelawarePolitics.net and their extensive coverage along with Blue Hen Conservative and Sussex County Angel

In many ways, Delaware is the image of Maryland – a state dominated by an urban region where conservative rural residents are forgotten or just plain abused by the state government. They have a story worth telling as well, and while I don’t focus much on their state it’s worth linking to those in the know.

The forgotten commercial

You have to wonder how many potential votes were lost when the television station “forgot” to air this. Perhaps all the Delaware and regional bloggers can pick up the slack.

We the People of the First State from Friends of Christine O’Donnell on Vimeo.

As a reminder, I’ll not be moderating comments until late tonight at the earliest since I have a House of Delegates race to help win.

Storming the establishment

Well, it’s been at best a difficult week for the so-called Republican Party establishment. Not only is there much wailing and gnashing of teeth at Christine O’Donnell’s Delaware victory, but one local blogger has taken her time to blast the local establishment as well. I’ll get to her in a minute.

Even before the polls were closed in Delaware, though, there were those who bemoaned the lost opportunity in Delaware since Mike Castle was defeated in his bid to become the caretaker Senator from the First State. Normally I like Hans Bader and his writing, but I have to disagree with his whinefest on this one. Most tellingly he writes:

People who think the country is conservative beneath the surface — or even firmly “center-right” — are living in a bubble, just like the Obama supporters were deluding themselves when they came to the conclusion that the country had become staunchly liberal just because Obama won in 2008 based on the bad economy.

The problem with Bader’s theory is that conservatism is the leading ideological identifier, according to polling data. Yet there always seems to be this tug-of-war between various factions of what can be termed “mainstream” Republicans like Bader who accept that having the party label is more important than principle, against those in the Tea Party Express Bader slams because they remain ideologically purer to conservative principles.

Bader is correct in saying the Obama supporters were deluding themselves, but that’s simply because the country is more right than left – unfortunately those on the right were let down when a centrist candidate was nominated. It was a selection process based to a large extent by primary voters in open primary states and the mainstream media cheerleaders who backed John McCain until the moment he picked the much more conservative Governor Sarah Palin. Ironically, that was the point where McCain peaked and briefly led in the polls.

As events play out, the race may not matter for control of the Senate anyway and there’s no guarantee Christine O’Donnell won’t pull off the shocker in November as she did last week. Before the beginning of September and the Tea Party Express getting involved, no one gave O’Donnell a shot at making it this far nor was the Senate even deemed in play earlier this year – most pundits saw the possibilities as perhaps a 52-48 or 53-47 Democratic edge. But in the eyes of many conservatives, 50-50 with Biden being the tiebreaking vote is better than 51-49 but always having to worry whether Castle would sell out. Such a scenario would likely prove the Democrats who demanded equality in a similar situation under President Bush a decade ago as complete hypocrites now when they deny the GOP that same parity.

Yet the Tea Party vs. establishment battle roils closer to home as well.

Obviously one could consider Julie Brewington’s diatribe against the state Americans for Prosperity chapter and the local Republican Party a serious case of sour grapes since she finished last in a four-person field. She describes herself as “too trusting” of certain people who “used me,” especially when she bucked the trend and supported the more conservative candidate for Governor, Brian Murphy (as did I.) Except for myself and another current member of the Wicomico County Republican Central Committee, she takes aim at party leadership and some of my fellow local bloggers as well. At least one time in the past I advised Julie to grow a little thicker skin, but in this case she makes some very valid points.

There has always been that undercurrent of conservatism locally, and the GOP has been the beneficiary of it for nearly a quarter-century. The last time a Democratic candidate for Governor or President carried Wicomico County was in 1986, and William Donald Schaefer could neither be described as a very liberal Democrat nor did he have much opposition from an extremely weak GOP candidate. Oftentimes we get the benefit from a pocket of Democrats who are simply DINOs and vote mostly Republican tickets on Election Day. This year the good climate for the GOP was manifested by the number of candidates under our banner for local seats, including the Central Committee.

Yet those voters we depend on to carry us despite our disadvantage in registrations are the same ones being alienated by the games being played by establishment Republicans. Trying to tilt the playing field to benefit certain candidates shouldn’t be the job of the state party, and all candidates should be treated with respect. I know there are some who don’t like our current leadership (that line doesn’t start with Julie) but now we’ll enter a new era with a few new players – the leader of the local AFP chapter, a longtime county activist, and the person behind “Conservatives for Maryland.” (I have to scratch my head at the Ehrlich backing by that group though; then again, when the lead local person for Bob runs the group I guess you get a few compromises.) Of the seven who were elected in 2006, it appears just four of us will survive to begin this term.

Yet there will be a particular dynamic to our group which has the potential to discourage the Tea Party from further involvement. Enough of the old guard and (perhaps) tea party skeptics remain that the struggle for leadership may be real and damaging. Obviously this group will back the Republicans who survived the 2010 primary (and it’s a very potent group) but once the state reorganization begins it’s anyone’s guess which way we will go. I doubt that on that front we will be as united as some may desire – I sense there will be profound differences among us.

Having said that, though, we need people like Julie Brewington to keep us honest. What we don’t need, though, is to have all of our dirty laundry aired in public. Sunlight is a great disinfectant but it also makes certain things fade over time, and we need to keep those new political recruits we’ve gained in the conservative movement within the Tea Party in the bold colors they represent. We tried the pale pastels over the last decade and see where they got us.

While the Tea Party exists without a strong inside leader, those within the Republican Party need to take the elephant by the tusks and work on reforming the state party so it better reflects the conservatism of its members.

But we also need to be teachers and present alternatives to the statism we see in Annapolis and Washington. The ‘party of no’ can work for now but we need to become the party of limited-government alternatives once we secure leadership positions. If someone like Mike Castle was going to simply present a slower drift toward statism,  it’s best he lost and the job of Delaware Republicans should be to teach the voters that having an advocate for limiting government is in their best interest.

It should be our job as well.

New polling raises question on O’Donnell’s viability

Late last month I posted about the endorsement given to upstart Republican Christine O’Donnell in the Delaware U.S. Senate race. But perhaps the bloom is fading from the rose, or establishment Republicans in the First State have planted enough seeds of doubt in the minds of GOP stalwarts to push them away from the conservative challenger.

The most recent Rasmussen Poll in Delaware has Rep. Mike Castle handily defeating likely Democratic nominee Chris Coons by a 49-37 margin, with 9 percent undecided. While the margin has shrunk somewhat from earlier Rasmussen surveys, the pollster feels confident enough to state that the Senate seat now “leans Republican.”

On the other hand, O’Donnell, who trailed Coons within the margin of error last time around, now finds herself 10 points behind in a 46-36 race. Whether this is a result of Tea Party involvement or not is purely speculative, but one passage in Rasmussen’s report on the race raises some big questions:

If Castle is the nominee, the GOP makes serious inroads into the Democratic vote. Castle gets 81% of the Republican vote, while Coons carries just 56% of Democrats. But if O’Donnell is in the race, her GOP support is 66%, and 75% of Democrats support Coons. Voters not affiliated with either major party break close to even no matter which Republican is in the race.

Fifty-four percent (54%) of all voters in Delaware regard Castle as a conservative, while 61% feel this way about O’Donnell.  Fifty-seven percent (57%) consider Coons a liberal.

My first question is what the 54% in Delaware are smoking to consider Castle a conservative, that is, unless Rasmussen is polling a group who thinks Ho Chi Minh was a moderate. (Given that Delaware has a Communist Party that just may be the case.) And where are the 34% of Republicans who wouldn’t support O’Donnell going to go if she gets the nod? Would they vote for the guy most Delaware voters think is a liberal just to spite the mostly downstate conservatives who are O’Donnell’s base of support?

Let’s just let this observer speak:

“She has debts she hasn’t paid from the last race. She sold her house that was in foreclosure so she could run for Senate. She has a long history of not paying bills. She sued a conservative think tank that dismissed her. She’s a candidate who runs for office that unfortunately lives off the proceeds. You just don’t have a candidate in Christine O’Donnell that is considered credible. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a candidate with such a paper trail.”

When you come to find out this statement comes from Tom Ross, Delaware’s State Republican Party chair, perhaps it speaks volumes about the Delaware GOP. Apparently they would rather have a closet Democrat or the real thing. Yes, this is a state which sent Joe Biden to the U.S. Senate way too many times but you have to figure the lesson would sink in sometime.

Perhaps Christine O’Donnell isn’t the best representative of a conservative candidate, but that statement from the party chair demonstrates the Delaware GOP is in severe need of a housecleaning. No wonder O’Donnell is tanking in the polls.

Delaware challenger receives a key boost

I haven’t paid a lot of attention to Delaware politics lately because Maryland is so busy right now.

But when a leading national Tea Party organization takes notice of a particular candidate, that is pretty big news. So it was yesterday when I got this notice from the TEA Party Express endorsing GOP Senate challenger Christine O’Donnell.

The Tea Party Express is pleased to announce its endorsement of Christine O’Donnell for U.S. Senate in Delaware.

O’Donnell is battling liberal Republican Congressman Mike Castle for the GOP nomination.

“Christine O’Donnell has established a reputation as a strong voice for conservative constitutionalist principles consistent with the ideals of the tea party movement,” said Amy Kremer, Chairman of the Tea Party Express and one of the founding activists of the modern tea party movement.

In contrast, Mike Castle has proven himself to be one of the most liberal establishment Republicans who has repeatedly turned against conservatives and those in the tea party movement.

“We’re so excited to see the strength behind Christine O’Donnell’s campaign,” said Joe Wierzbicki, Coordinator for the Tea Party Express.

“We long ago announced our intention to hold Mike Castle accountable for his failed record in Congress, and now we have an excellent shot to make sure he is defeated by a solid conservative candidate,” Wierzbicki said.

A recent Rasmussen Reports poll shows O’Donnell polling ahead of Democrat candidate, Chris Coons by a 41%-39% margin.

During the Tea Party Express’ first national bus tour, Wierzbicki declared to CNN and other media outlets that Castle was one of the worst-offenders who needed to be defeated by the tea party movement. 

One specialty of the TEA Party Express is raising money. They count among their successes Nevada Senate challenger Sharron Angle, for whom they spent $550,000 on her behalf, and Scott Brown of Massachusetts, where the TEA Party Express spent $350,000. Other candidates they claim as political scalps include Utah Senator Bob Bennett, Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, and West Virginia Congressman Allan Mollohan. They also brag about scaring Michigan Rep. Bart Stupak out of a re-election bid with their threat to raise $250,000 against him.

But the TEA Party Express support is derived from that recent Rasmussen Poll cited, which had O’Donnell leading Coons and putting the lie to establishment First State Republicans who claim only Castle can win the “Biden seat.”

Considering the vast difference in resources between the two GOP hopefuls (Castle has $2.6 million on hand compared to just a shade under $70,000 for O’Donnell) it’s clear that Christine has a big hill to climb. Luckily, Delaware is a small state and the media dynamics are unique because Delaware shares television markets with adjacent states which are also busy with spirited electoral races. This makes retail campaigning a bit more effective. (It’s also worth pointing out that Democrat Chris Coons has about $950,000 on hand, which in terms of funding means he’s an easier target than Castle.) Putting national resources behind her may make O’Donnell enough of a candidate to turn that seat over to a conservative Republican – only time will tell.

And if we can get a close-by TEA Party Express 4 stop out of it I’ll be a happy man.