Crowded field in gubernatorial primaries

DOVER — Although technically both Democratic and Republican voters have multiple choices for governor on Sept. 15, one race is almost a pro forma. In the Democratic primary, Gov. John Carney is expected to coast to the party nomination as he seeks a second (and final) term heading the state.

Victory is all but guaranteed for the governor, who is facing David Lamar Williams Jr. Mr. Williams, who listed Camden-Wyoming as his address on election paperwork, has a website but little else, whereas Gov. Carney has both money and name recognition.

As of Aug. 16, the governor had $414,000 on hand. Mr. Williams, in comparison, had not filed a report, likely indicating he plans to spend less than $500 on his campaign.

A July survey from several universities reported 51% of Delawareans approved of Gov. Carney’s COVID-19 response, a figure that’s undoubtedly larger among Democrats.

Most votes in Mr. Williams’ favor will probably be primarily protest votes against Gov. Carney rather than votes for the challenger, so to speak.

The GOP contest, on the other hand, is far more intriguing. Six people are running, and although three of them are considered far more serious candidates than the others, any one of those three could win.

Among the individuals expected by political observers to finish in the top three, the primary features two state senators and the candidate endorsed by members at the GOP convention in July (although the party can’t spend resources or otherwise promote her).

Sen. Colin Bonini was the party’s nominee in 2016, where he lost to then U.S. Rep. Carney, garnering 39% of the vote. The longest-serving Republican in the General Assembly, the Dover-area legislator has some big monetary support he feels makes him the only Republican capable of winning November’s general election.

Sen. Bryant Richardson believes his pro-life policies and strong opposition to COVID-19 restrictions give him a good chance to become Delaware’s first Republican governor in 28 years. He was elected to the Seaford-area seat in 2014 and reelected in 2018.

Attorney Julianne Murray is also running over outrage with how the state has handled coronavirus. In May, her husband filed a lawsuit against Gov. Carney over restrictions on short-term rental units. Ms. Murray is representing him in that case.

Also seeking the nomination are perennial candidate Dave Graham, David Bosco and Scott Walker. Mr. Graham, an accountant, has run for several state offices in the past, never coming close. Mr. Bosco decided to seek the party’s nomination after spending “days and weeks complaining about the way our state was being run” following coronavirus restrictions that impacted so many businesses.

Mr. Walker was the party’s nominee for the U.S. House of Representatives in 2018, although GOP officials formally distanced themselves from him due to offensive and bizarre behavior. He’s considered a source of both amusement and an annoyance by political observers and insiders, perhaps most notable for his large wooden signs dotting the highways.

Chief GOP contenders

Sens. Bonini and Richardson and Ms. Murray subscribe to orthodox Republican beliefs and have expressed support for President Donald Trump. Each believes Delaware has suffered under Democratic rule (Democrats have held at least one chamber of the legislature and the governor’s mansion for the past 28 years) and fiercely opposes tax increases, gun control and COVID-related lockdowns.

They feel the state’s economy would benefit from a Republican and have pledged to improve government transparency. To them, Gov. Carney does not represent the will of the people of Delaware.

“The entire Carney Administration has been characterized by a failure to make decisions and confront the hard decisions facing the state,” Ms. Murray wrote in a questionnaire. “We have a Governor who is picking economic winners and losers with the result being record unemployment and up to 30% of small businesses either closed or forced out of business. We must and can do better.

“I believe it is time to elect someone with business experience who is not part of the political establishment. We need to clean the mess up in Dover and have a governor who will represent the citizens of the state not the special interests and their lobbyists.”

Democratic Party dominance “effectively has stopped open communication, not only across the aisle, but too often at the exclusion of the public,” Sen. Richardson wrote in a questionnaire, also pointing to the COVID limitations imposed by the governor.

While the three chief contenders have many very similar beliefs, each does stand out in some ways. Ms. Murray can boast of the GOP endorsement, and her status as an outsider may resonate in an era where Donald Trump is president. Opposition to abortion is one of Sen. Richardson’s core beliefs, while Sen. Bonini is confident so many of Delaware’s problems can be traced back to its economy.

“Delaware has one of the worst economies in the country and the Democrats have controlled Delaware for decades. Coincidence? I don’t think so,” Sen. Bonini wrote in a questionnaire.

“Lower taxes, less regulation and a State Government led by someone like me, with extensive private-sector experience, will help send a positive message to job creators. It is critically important that we elect a Governor who will reign in the State Government’s culture of over-regulation and massive spending.”

The senator has what could be an ace in the hole: “significant financial support,” as he termed it when announcing his run in June.

His political action committee, Responsible Delaware, received $100,000 in July. The funds came from Chris Kenny, owner of Kenny Family Shoprites and founder of the free-market advocacy group A Better Delaware.

The race has seen some minor sparks of late over an email controversy. In August, the Sussex County GOP sent out an email with basic information about Sen. Richardson’s campaign, only to apologize a few hours later for appearing to endorse the senator. At the request of the Murray campaign, the party then sent out a similar message about Ms. Murray, who recently claimed the incident “was an intentional dirty trick.”

COVID and other issues

While Ms. Murray has never held elected office before, she’s certainly not the only outsider in the race.

Mr. Graham firmly believes a Republican is needed, citing his financial background as a strong point in his favor. Based on a “personal life experience,” he’s been “highly and persistently motivated over the last twenty years to seek the office of governor” to reform the Family Court.

Mr. Bosco is running as the proverbial regular Joe who decided to seek office after growing sick and tired of being sick and tired.

“I am running for Governor to be a voice for the working people. To be someone to listen to people and let them know that I will do everything I can to make their voice heard,” his website states. “No one should ever tell someone they are not important. No one should ever make someone feel non-essential. We are all important and essential.

“I have seen the darkest of days and the blackest of nights when I felt like there was no end in sight. I have been there and done that. You can’t help people if you don’t understand what they have been through. A governor should be for the people of the whole state. Delaware is very diverse and has significantly different needs from north to south. Without the people, the state is nothing!”

The Republicans support lifting most COVID limitations, another sign of the gap between the left and the right. Sen. Richardson has been critical of Gov. Carney for effectively prohibiting in-person religious ceremonies for a time and for not doing more to keep lawmakers informed about his approach.

Ms. Murray, who is leaning hard on her status as an outsider, has a similar view.

“I believe the way that Governor Carney has handled the state of emergency has been unconstitutional and haphazard at best. First, it allowed the Governor to determine what was an essential business and what was not,” she wrote. “Under his orders, major retailers were essential yet small independent businesses were not.

“Where in the state constitution does it give him the power to select which businesses can stay in business and which can’t? It has caused severe economic hardship for Delawareans. We are facing record unemployment and up to 30% of small businesses either temporarily closed or permanently out of business. That number is still climbing as the state of emergency continues.

“The orders also demonstrated how clearly state government can take away our rights. And in my opinion it was anything but transparent. I think the state should be reopen completely at this point.”

State law gives the governor broad authority to handle “dangers to life, health, environment, property or public peace within the State presented by emergencies or disasters” until circumstances improve, potentially indefinitely. Republicans have expressed displeasure with the law, believing it empowers the chief executive too much.

The GOP candidates feel it is paramount to open schools to in-person learning as soon as possible. Most districts have started or are starting the year virtually, with plans to shift to a hybrid format in the coming months.

Each Republican candidate pledged to fight racism and discrimination while also supporting police.

To Sen. Bonini, so many of the state’s problems, including most of the issues faced more acutely by Black residents, can be summed up in that famous bit of advice James Carville gave to Bill Clinton. In other words, it’s all about the economy.

“Under Democrat control, many African Americans in Delaware are suffering — there is simply no question about it,” Sen. Bonini wrote. “Yes, relations with law-enforcement and related issues are important and we need to have those discussions and I think we can make real progress. But I believe the foundational quality-of-life issues in the African American Community (Jobs, education, health care, crime, etc.) must be addressed.”

He intends to release a plan to create opportunities for Black Delawareans soon.

The candidates all expressed a desire to reduce state spending, something Sen. Bonini has been beating the drum for since his election in 1994.

Sen. Richardson believes moving back to traditional values would limit the size and scope of government, to say nothing of the impact it would have on individual residents.

“If more emphasis was placed on restoring the families, the number of the problems we are trying to solve in different state agencies would be reduced. Our laws should incentivize couples to stay together,” he said.

The winners of the primary will face off Nov. 3. Barring any last-minute shockers, Gov. Carney will be favored to earn a second term against whomever the Republican Party nominates — but, of course, that’s why elections aren’t held on paper.