What To Look For in Delaware’s 2018 Primary

Delaware is having their primary elections this Thursday, one of the last in the nation. I’m currently quite bored and have been paying way too much attention to many of these races, so here is a guide of what to watch for those who are less obsessive about this but still want to know some interesting races to watch.

Statewide:

On the Democratic side, the banner race of the night is Tom Carper vs Kerri Evelyn Harris. Harris jumped into the race back in February, running a campaign largely formed and started by a network of local progressive groups. However, after the shock victory of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in late June, the campaign has gained much more attention. Successful congressional candidate Ocasio-Cortez and failed gubernatorial candidate Abdul El-Sayed have both sent staffers to help Harris in the race, along with a few staffers from Justice Democrats. The Harris campaign is now moving along at a speedy pace with the largest group of volunteers in the state.

However, Carper has not taken the challenge lightly. His campaign has launched one of his first field operations in recent memory, and he has blasted Delaware with advertisements, mailers, signs, and billboards. This is significantly different than Crowley in his race against Ocasio-Cortez, where he barely appeared in the district before the last week.

This race certainly has the appearance of competitiveness, especially after Kerri Evelyn Harris’s surprisingly strong debate performance, but there is no solid data to suggest that Harris has a real shot. The one poll of the race had Carper leading 51–19, well outside any margin of error. However, it came from an iffy pollster, and in low-turnout primaries anything can happen. They believe that if they can simply turn out Bernie voters, that will be enough to build a majority in an election that will likely have a lower turnout than the 2016 presidential primary.

The most interesting things I’m looking for in this race are:

  • Can Harris expand the progressive base beyond Bernie 2016, perhaps running a competitive race in the less white cities of Wilmington and Dover?
  • Will a close race prompt Tom Carper or Chris Coons to change their voting patterns, as that remaining the biggest attack line for progressive challengers?
  • Will a competitive race with a progressive candidate increase youth turnout at all in what will most likely be a low-turnout election?

While most people are focused on the Democratic side of this race, the Republican side is much more conventionally competitive. The race is between Gene Truono, a businessman from northern Delaware, and Rob Arlett, a county councilman from Sussex County and former Trump Delaware Campaign Chair. This race has gone through many stages, with the presumed nominee formerly being Chuck Boyce, who dropped in March due to health concerns. Gene Truono had announced his entrance into the race just over a week prior, but there was one problem for the party: he is openly gay.

A few weeks later, Arlett suddenly entered the race with the blessing of Boyce, and has consistently used Truono’s sexuality against him. When Arlett was asked to name the biggest difference between himself and Truono, he simply said, “I’m married to a woman and he is not.” Arlett has also consistently been avoiding coming to pre-scheduled debates where all four senate candidates were invited.

The one poll of this race has a much tighter race for the Republicans than Democrats, with Arlett up by 4 points. Whether or not this pans out on election day, as much as I hate to say it, comes down to turnout. If Truono can turn out his base in the rich suburbs of New Castle County over Arlett’s base in conservative Sussex and Kent, he could quite possibly pull through. If not, it looks like being gay is still enough to sink you in Republican primaries.

This is a race that feels like it should be easy to predict. Kathy Jennings has been around forever raking up experience and connections, which she has used in this race to build up an impressive war chest that she’s used to buy TV ads, billboards, and generally get her name out there. I would definitely consider her the front-runner, though all the candidates are interesting.

Tim Mullaney is an ex-cop who is endorsed by many of the unions, which has given him a considerable ground game despite his deficiency in pretty much every other area.

Chris Johnson is the progressive favorite, and also has an impressive ground game built up by many of the same people pushing for Kerri Evelyn Harris. He’s been unabashed in pushing against the death penalty, cash bail, and mandatory minimums, but has also put focus on issues like the water quality in Sussex. He has been good at getting around the state and campaigning, and if someone besides Jennings were to win, I would guess it to be him.

The main thing standing in his way, however, is LaKresha Roberts, the final candidate on the Democratic side. While she is not simply a spoiler candidate, she worked in the AG office before running and is probably even more experienced than Johnson, she hasn’t built up as much of a campaign apparatus. However, being the only other black candidate in the race, she might cut into the cities where Johnson may otherwise hope to sweep. Driving around Wilmington over the summer I saw more of her signs than Johnson’s, but I never want to judge based on signs alone.

In general, it will be interesting to see how their coalitions play out on election day. My expectation would be for Jennings to sweep suburban New Castle County and much of Kent and Sussex. Mullaney most likely has the best shot in many of the more conservative, working-class parts of the state, especially in the south, where people appreciate both cops and (sometimes) unions. Johnson and Roberts are more likely to be strong in the cities, though it’s possible that Johnson’s focus on downstate issues could pay off on Thursday.

Republicans only have one candidate and they put him in at the last minute so I won’t mention him. He’s a former Democrat and he’s not going to win anyway.

Honestly, this has probably been one of the most contentious races in the state, at least going off of the Facebook comments and angry blog posts. The current auditor, Tom Wagner, is stepping down after decades, so Democrats really want one of the few remaining red statewide seats. Once again, there is a clear frontrunner if you are looking at the fundraising numbers. Kathy McGuiness is a mainstay of Sussex Democratic politics, and ran for Lieutenant Governor in 2016 to no avail, finishing in third place in the Democratic primary. She has become a lightning rod for progressive criticism due to her intimate relations with much of the Delaware political establishment, a quality than many don’t want to see in a person whose job it will be to hold the establishment accountable.

Also running is Dennis Williams, a man who was so unpopular as a state representative that he was successfully primaried by his former campaign manager after only one term. He has gone on several sexist tirades against the other two candidates, and I honestly don’t like him. I hope he does very poorly.

The final candidate is Kathleen Davies, who is another progressive pick. She was the former Chief Administrative Auditor under Tom Wager, which means that she is the most qualified in terms of literally being able to audit, but also has the most potential baggage. The News Journal obtained a leaked report from the auditor’s office that said she was fired in 2017 for creating a hostile work environment and generally being corrupt. However, seeing that this report would be commissioned by the Republican auditor, it could possibly be politically motivated. Or it could not. I know people personally from both sides of this story that have been very insistent either way, so it’ll come down to who the voters believe/actually know about. In her defense, however, the Department of Labor hearing into her case determined that Wagner did not have sufficient cause to fire her, which casts doubt on lots of the report.

Whoever wins this race will go against James Spadola, a failed state senate candidate from 2016 who really wants to be the next Mike Castle.

The most interesting thing when considering all of these things together will be watching the anointed progressive candidates: Kerri Evelyn Harris, Chris Johnson, and Kathleen Davies. All are running separate campaigns, and have many different qualifications, but I will be watching to see if they form similar coalitions, perhaps laying the groundworks for a more reliable progressive base in Delaware.

Local Races:

I’ll admit, I live in Northern New Castle County, so the scope of what races I’ve been following is quite limited. There are probably some interesting races below the canal that I haven’t been following at all, but there’s enough going on in NCC to keep me busy.

This was a surprise primary. The incumbent, Charles Potter, is a well-known shady character who ate a lot of shit recently when a deal surrounding a local stadium fell through. However, it looked like he was going to get off without a challenge until the filing deadline, when Nnamdi Chukwuocha, a popular Wilmington City Councilman, jumped into the race. Nnamdi has been running a fantastic campaign, and has established name recognition from a long record of service in Wilmington. However, the Potter family is a consistent, if not well-liked, Wilmington institution. This is actually my home district, so it will be interesting to see if some of the more corrupt aspects of the Wilmington machine can be shed with this primary.

I’ll admit, I haven’t followed this closely, but I like Sherry Dorsey Walker and hope she wins. She would’ve made a great Lieutenant Governor and I hope she can at least get this.

This is a race that I was not following until a classmate of mine starting working for Aja Ajavon. She is one of three candidates in that race, including Kendra Johnson and Will Resto. I have not looked enough into the race to know who has the best shot, but Ajavon recently got the endorsements from Stonewall Democrats to John Kowalko, so she’s been successfully pulling support from different parts of the party while also getting out in the community, so it will be interesting to see if she can pull it through.

Even though this has not been a contentious primary, I can’t really express a strong opinion without someone getting mad at me. This could be a potential swing seat, so it’s definitely one to watch. The two candidates are Krista Griffith and Rachel Blumenfeld.

This is one of the few competitive races that I know of that has both primaries on the Democrat and Republican sides. The party favorite on the Democratic side is Renee Taschner, a former cop and who became famous for posing as a prostitute to catch a serial killer, in a case that was actually prosecuted by AG candidate Kathy Jennings in 1988. It was honestly very badass, and is her major claim to fame. She has the backing of the unions, who have been pushing for her hard, though she falls closer to the middle politically.

Her opponent is Guillermina Gonzalez, a native of Mexico who started her career working in big business before moving to non-profit work and now running for office. While her background in business may not suggest it, she has been running as a progressive, earning a Delaware United endorsement and taking no PAC money. While behind on fundraising, she has run an impressive campaign, logging almost 2 million steps while canvassing. I know from personal experience that she has been a machine on the doors. This could be a more competitive primary than people expect, as Gonzalez has certainly spent enough time on the doors to make up for any inherent disadvantages. However, the recently made the unforced error of seemingly going after public schools teachers and unions on a lit piece, angering some progressives.

The Republican primary in this district is to replace the beloved retiring Joe Miro, a moderate Republican who won by landslides in every election by just being a really likable and accessible guy. Interestingly, the two candidates are actually trying to take that angle rather than becoming Trump clones like many other Republicans across the country.

The probably front-runner is Mike Smith, a man who is extraordinarily bland. Knocking doors in that district, I see several of his signs in yards and lots of his lit at doors, even in areas that I wouldn’t expect. Smith attempted to primary Miro back in 2014 but fell short by about 15 points. I tried to look into his positions, but he literally has none on his site. I pored over every word on his Issues page and there’s nothing there. And that’s the kind of mealy-mouthed mumbo-jumbo that I expect will win him the primary.

That’s because his opponent, Kathy Beard, is actually arguably a moderate Democrat. She is openly pro-choice and supports Planned Parenthood, and has extremely moderate views on practically everything else. However, this district is not nearly moderate enough for a majority of the Republicans to be ok with being pro-choice, and I feel fairly strongly that this will lose her the election. Crazier things have happened though.

This is really the only interesting state senate primary in the state. Arguably the second district as well but the candidates there are all so bad that I really don’t want to talk about it. Right now it seems that much of the party has settled on supporting Tizzy Lockman, a local community activist and education advocate who is very popular among progressives. Both her and her opponent jumped into the race back before the current incumbent, Bob Marshall, announced his retirement, but since then she has reliably raked in a number of establishment endorsements, and is seen by many as the favorite.

However, I believe that Jordan Hines has been underestimated. Having grown up poor in the city, he connects much better with many of the residents in the poor, majority-black neighborhoods that make up much of the district. He has also been very consistent about campaigning, as has gotten some surprisingly strong endorsements from labor, the city council president, and several prominent community leaders. While he has not built the best reputation among the political community, he could pull off a surprise upset.

There are two progressive challengers running against Democrats in county council seats this year: Jordan Pusey and David Carter, who are challenging Ken Woods and Bill Powers respectively. If they can make a good showing, that’s great news for the grassroots power of groups like Delaware United.

Conclusion

Hopefully this will provide a pointer to some interesting races going on this Thursday in Delaware. There’s more out there, including the sheriff’s race which I still know nothing about, and a few representative districts that have great progressive candidates that I have nonetheless not focused on. If you live in Delaware, just make sure to get out and vote, no matter who you vote for.

Somehow idealistic and cynical at the same time

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