Pandemic, economy rile half million Delaware voters

DOVER — It was no surprise that Blue Hen Joe Biden won Delaware with 58.8% of the state’s vote.

But what was extraordinary was the number of votes he received — 295,420.

The total is about 40,000 more than 2008 when he was the running mate of Barack Obama and about 60,000 more than Hillary Clinton in 2016.

In all, more than a half million votes were cast in Delaware this year.

Donald Trump collected 39.8% of the vote, despite picking up nearly 15,000 more votes than he did four years ago.

In 2016, he had 42% of the Delaware vote. Clinton had 53.35%.

Biden won 31 of the 41 representative districts in the state, four more than Clinton.

Delaware, like most of the nation, has been split by two big issues.

“The race between President Donald Trump and Democratic rival Joe Biden concluded Tuesday as the nation remains in the throes of a global public health crisis and mired in the economic downturn it brought on,” the Associated Press wrote in a summary of voter motivation.

“AP VoteCast found that 36% of Delaware voters said the U.S. is on the right track and 64% of voters said it is headed in the wrong direction.”

AP VoteCast surveyed more than 1,000 Delawareans. Some findings:

•64% of women and 52% of men preferred Biden.

•All age groups showed more Biden backers, but the highest category at 66% was those ages 30-44. Trump’s top group, with 45%, was those 65 and older.

•Biden was preferred over Trump among urban and suburban voters while voters in small towns and rural areas were almost evenly split. The representative district blue vs. red map showcases this.

•44% of Delaware voters said the pandemic was the most important issue facing the country. Of those respondents, 73% backed Biden.

•18% said coronavirus was completely or mostly under control; 28% said it was somewhat under control; and 55% said it was not under control at all.

•The economy was second among top issues at 28%. Of those respondents, 81% backed Trump. 44% said the economy was excellent or good; 56% said not so good or poor.

•Racism (9%) and health care (8%) were also listed as the most important issues.

As the presidential vote went in Delaware, so did the races for governor, U.S. Senate and Congress.

Republican candidates — unconventional conservative upstart Lauren Witzke for U.S. Senate and Lee Murphy for Congress — were in line with Trump on the issues above.

The Republican candidate for governor, Julianne Murray, largely focused on Gov. John Carney’s handling of the pandemic.

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Statewide, all but one district had winners of the same party.

In the 34th representative district (Camden area), Julia Pillsbury, a Dover pediatrician, was the only Republican to win a district that was swept by Democrats.

However, the 34th’s incumbent state representative, Republican Lyndon Yearick, won re-election with 57% of the vote.

Trump won District 34 in 2016 with 55% of the vote. Biden had 52% of the district’s support this year.

Of Biden’s winning districts, the closest was District 20, in the Milton area, where he had 51.3%.

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The nail-biting, vote counting and updates on national television news have been incessant after Election Day.

Delaware has avoided drama with absentee ballot counting, but it led to some double takes when the results were first posted. Absentee numbers were the first shown.

In each of the statewide races, Delawareans likely noticed Democrats had 90,000-vote leads. More than 160,000 absentee votes were cast.

And, the mail-in votes suggested that Republican incumbents in the legislature, including Representatives Yearick, Charles Postles and Bryan Shupe and state Sen. Dave Lawson may have a tough night.

But once the machine votes started coming in, it was clear the Republicans were heeding Trump advice to vote in person.

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Evidence of Trump support can be seen across Southern Delaware in the number of his flags you see flying in front of homes or waving from the backs of trucks and boats.

In 2016, he drew a packed house in a campaign rally in the Quillen Arena at the Delaware State Fairgrounds in Harrington. He did not visit the state this year, but often jabbed Biden for campaigning from his home near Wilmington.

The perspective on country voters vs. those in the suburbs and cities plays out across lower Delaware. But few of the more rural representative districts were true Trump country.

All of the precincts within Districts 30 (Harrington area) and 35 (Greenwood-Bridgeville) went to Trump. In the other eight, at least one precinct went to Biden.

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A population boom — 17.6 percent in the 1990s — changed the political demographics of Delaware.

Consider that it was a bellwether state from 1952 through 1996, the only state in the nation to back the winning presidential candidate all through that period.

In 1988, Delaware Elections Commissioner John G. Davis Jr. noted that the state had chosen the losing presidential candidate just three times in the 20th century.

“Delaware voters ignored party labels and selected candidates of every political stripe,” he wrote in a post-election report.

“It is heartening to see the keen competition between the political parties. Ultimately Delaware citizens are the winners in a truly two-party state.”

The bellwether streak ended when Delaware backed Al Gore in 2000 and John Kerry in 2004.

In the 2000 election, Delaware topped 300,000 total votes in the presidential race for the first time.

In 1988, there were about 65,000 fewer voters at state polling places.

Sussex County, which only had two districts favor Biden in this election, has voted for the Republican candidate in every election since 1980. The last Democratic Party candidate to win in Sussex was Jimmy Carter in 1976.

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Delaware has backed Democrats in the past eight presidential and gubernatorial elections. And the state has backed a Democrat in the past four congressional votes.

Quite a bit changed in the 1990s, particularly as the state’s political heavyweights started changing offices. Consider these years:

•1992: Gov. Mike Castle, who succeeded fellow Republican Pete du Pont, wrapped up his second term in the office. He went to Washington as the state’s congressman, swapping roles with Democrat Tom Carper. Castle remained in Congress through 2010.

•1994: Republican Bill Roth won his sixth term as a U.S. senator.

•2000: At the end of Carper’s two terms as governor, he set his eyes on the U.S. Senate and ended Roth’s 30 years in the office. Carper won with 55% of the vote.

•2008: Barack Obama, with Biden as his running mate, won the presidency. Delaware Gov. Ruth, a Democrat, appointed Biden aide Ted Kaufman to finish out the remaining years of the senate term.

•2010: Castle saw an opportunity to win the U.S. Senate seat Biden had held since 1972. But, Tea Party candidate Christine O’Donnell shocked the political world by winning a primary against him. That opened the door to Chris Coons, who won the office handily and has held the seat since.

•2014: Beau Biden, the vice president’s son, opted not to run for a third term as the state’s attorney general. Instead, he said he would pursue the governor’s office in 2016. Beau Biden died of cancer in 2015, changing the course of politics again in the state and influencing Vice President Biden not to run for the presidency.

•2016: John Carney, who had lost a primary to Jack Markell in the race for governor in 2008, won the office. In 2010, he succeeded Castle as U.S. representative.

You might also go back to 1972 and think about the 30-year-old Biden’s U.S. Senate win. The then-New Castle County councilman upset Republican J. Caleb Boggs by 3,162 votes. Back then, Biden’s vote total of 116,000 was 39 percent of what he received on Tuesday.