Thoughts on Delaware Election Results

Hope finally sprang last night for Delaware Republicans with Ken Simpler’s historic statewide victory – the first for a Republican since 1994 – Tom Wagner’s reelection and a host of other important down-ballot wins including the pickup of two House seats and one in the Senate.

Our take:


Winners

Ken Simpler – Simpler ran a focused, disciplined, well financed, and flawlessly-executed campaign, which is a mean feat for a first-time candidate. After Chip Flowers’ drama-filled tenure, Simpler effectively made the election a referendum on, of all things, experience and financial competence in the Treasurer’s office; his likeable opponent never seemed to catch on or counter Simpler’s unparalleled qualifications for the job. Simpler’s roots and popularity in Sussex County proved critical in helping to propel him to victory in both the primary as well as the general election and his upstate residence and relationships will only make him a more formidable political figure in the years to come. Simpler has demonstrated he can adeptly juggle multiple complex tasks so he should take office, manage the books and keep running right into Woodburn at the next best opportunity. He also showed that, notwithstanding registration numbers, voters will elect an engaging and well-qualified candidate, regardless of party affiliation.

Tom Wagner – What do you call a guy who raised little money, didn’t really campaign until October and faced what appeared to be a reasonably strong (apparently only on paper as it turns out) challenger in what could be considered an anti-incumbent environment? You call him Mr. Auditor General. Tom Wagner is the longest-serving Delaware politician in a state office, perhaps because he actually comes across to the voters as a workmanlike, unbiased professional with no higher ambitions.

The Delaware GOP – Charlie Copeland and John Fluharty ran a tight ship, focusing their limited resources where it could make the most impact and they worked hard to recruit good candidates for the right races. Simpler’s win will go a long way to helping the Delaware GOP find solid footing looking towards 2016 and beyond by demonstrating to other potential candidates that the right kind of Republicans – capable, qualified and likeable – can still win in Delaware.

Greg Lavelle – Senator Lavelle was reelected in a commanding performance against a challenger who ran a surprisingly active race with mailers and signs covering the district. Lavelle is well positioned for a statewide run in 2016 or beyond, and many are hoping he takes a shot.

Kevin Hensley – Hensley prevailed in a hard-fought contest for an open MOT House seat and he will be one to watch in Dover.

Ernie Lopez – Like Lavelle, Senator Lopez claimed a decisive victory and also like Lavelle he will be mid-term and free to explore a statewide race in 2016 should he so choose.

Sussex and Kent Counties – For generations in the 20th Century, the lower counties dominated Delaware’s politics. Fifty years ago, Delaware’s big four – Governor, both US senators and our congressman – were all Kent and Sussex Countians. Delaware isn’t anywhere close to that now but voters below the canal turned out in much higher numbers than their northern neighbors and as a result they had disproportionate influence on the election’s outcome. By the time Wagner (Kent) and Simpler’s (Sussex native) votes were in from the south, they were nearly impenetrable.

Underperformers

Matt Denn – Simpler and Wagner each drew more votes than Denn who was running statewide for the fourth time. Loaded, and opposed by first-timer, Ted Kittila, Denn should breathe a sigh of relief, and send a thank you note to Colm Connolly for not stepping into the ring. Like Simpler, Connolly, a veteran prosecutor, would have made this race a referendum on the best qualified for the job – and won.

Chris Coons – With more than $4 million of campaign cash funding extensive television, radio and print advertising, most observers expected Senator Coons to crush perennial candidate Kevin Wade. Last night’s results suggest a better funded challenger might have actually unseated Coons, who was held to 55 percent. While Coons might have experience and money, apparently Delawareans aren’t ready to crown him the next Joe Biden or Mike Castle.

Not winners

Incumbent Democrats – Whether it is the Markell administration or General Assembly leadership, the party in power doesn’t have much to celebrate at Return Day this year. Their base didn’t turn out, and those who did were clearly not enthusiastic about the state’s direction. Simpler’s success against a candidate backed by every Democratic name in the state (and beyond) suggests voters are becoming wary of the direction this state is headed under one-party domination.

Voters who stayed home – With so many challenges facing our state and country, it is disappointing that only 36% of registered voters bothered to exercise the franchise. Without examining all the numbers, GOP energy was clearly strong and Democrat turnout was dismal. Good for the GOP in the short term, but the lack of participation should concern us all.

Beyond Delaware …

Midwestern Republican Governors – Republicans now govern a critical ban of states across the Midwest: Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan and Ohio. Two of those governors – Scott Walker in Wisconsin and John Kasich in Ohio – are bound to look seriously at presidential runs in 2016.

Other Republican Governors – Brain Sandoval in Nevada, Susana Martinez in New Mexico and South Carolina’s Nikki Haley all secured reelection and put themselves firmly in position for a shot at national office.

And more Republican Governors – Next door in Maryland, Republican businessman Larry Hogan won a shocking victory for Governor in one of the bluest of the blue states (Massachusetts being another that also elected a GOP Governor last night). Yet another sign of mid-Atlantic hope for a revitalized Delaware GOP.

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