If Delaware’s political complexion still resembled the Republican salad years of his youth in the 1970s and 80s, State Senator Greg Lavelle might very well be winding down his second term as governor.
Instead, with Democrats controlling the state, the Brandywine Hundred legislator is busy working to change his title from Senate minority whip to majority caucus leader in Dover.
Democrats carry just a 12-9 edge in that chamber, meaning Republicans need only flip two seats in order to lead the body for the first time since 1972. Optimism for Lavelle and the GOP abounds, thanks to two connected factors heading into the November election.
First, several longtime Democrat incumbents are defending their seats in a cycle that is screaming “change!” Nationally, the Trump and Sanders campaigns have evidenced the country’s pronounced dissatisfaction with the status quo. Here in Delaware, three incumbent Democrat office holders were already sent packing in September’s primary election.
And these were no minor league pols: voters just rejected – overwhelmingly – Wilmington’s sitting mayor, the New Castle County executive and the state Insurance Commissioner. Two of those primary winners hold no public office.
As for the Senate Democrats seeking reelection, by “longtime” I mean that four members facing robust challenges have been in office a combined total of 128 years. One hundred and twenty-eight years. In fact, more than half of the Democrat caucus has been in office for an average of 32 years.
Numbers like those put politicians on the wrong side of voters looking to shake things up and vulnerable to outsiders offering fresh faces and fresh thinking.
Unfortunately for these Senate mandarins, the GOP is fielding a bumper crop of candidates who fit just that bill (factor #2). These four newcomers – James Spadola (v. Harris McDowell, 42 years in office), Meredith Chapman (David Sokola, 26 years), Carl Pace (Bruce Ennis, 34 years) and Anthony Delcollo (Patricia Blevins, 26 years) – are also running at a time when Delaware’s economy remains sluggish, and families are concerned and frustrated about public safety and the state of our schools.
In Spadola, Chapman, Pace and Delcollo, voters are presented with energetic, independent-minded young professionals with a generational bias towards solutions versus ideological purity.
The multitalented Spadola is an Army veteran of the Iraq war, an MBA who serves as a Newark police officer and has a regular guitar playing gig at Kelly’s Logan House. His opponent has been in office since before he was born and the courage he showed as a soldier extends to letting even GOP audiences know that he’s no fan of Donald Trump.
Chapman is a communications executive with the University of Delaware, a social media maestro who did a stint on the staff of Congressman Mike Castle. She’s made public education a centerpiece of her campaign, and that will play well in her heavily UD-oriented district. It will also require her opponent to defend his record as the longstanding chair of the Senate Education Committee. When parents and partisans from all sides agree our school system is seriously underperforming, many voters will surely be asking what, exactly, has Senator Sokola been doing all these years in that position?
After being born in one of the roughest sections of Wilmington and growing up in a trailer park outside of Newark, Carl Pace is understandably proud of his success as an entrepreneur and the owner of multiple businesses. The Clayton resident is new to politics but not public service: he’s a volunteer with the Christiana Fire Company and received the prestigious Jefferson Award for community service.
A Salesianum grad and Eagle Scout who grew up in Marshallton Heights, Delcollo is a lawyer and policy maven who can go deep on the state budget or foreign affairs. He’s taking on the Senate’s most powerful member in Blevins, the President Pro-tempore, a task requiring nothing less than 24-7 effort. Like his three fellow GOP challengers, he’s been hitting doors and meeting constituents nonstop since the spring.
This quartet has given Republicans a real shot at taking the Senate, thereby significantly altering the legislative landscape when a new governor takes office in January.
The success of their efforts may rest on whether voters decide to reward the good intentions of politicians who have been in office for decades or choose to scrutinize their records and hold them accountable for results.