Democrats extol primary turnout as eyes turn to general election

Lisa Blunt Rochester

Lisa Blunt Rochester

DOVER — About 94,000 Delawareans voted in Tuesday’s primary, the highest number for a non-presidential primary since 2010.

Six years ago Republicans surpassed Democrats in turnout 59,000 to 35,000, with members of the GOP coming out to vote in the heated U.S. Senate primary between Tea Party favorite Christine O’Donnell and establishment favorite U.S. Rep. Mike Castle.

This year, 20 percent of Democrats and 16 percent of Republicans cast ballots. In actual numbers, that’s 64,000 Democrats and 30,000 Republicans.

Hotly contested races on the Democratic ballot for U.S. House, lieutenant governor, Wilmington mayor and New Castle County council president helped pull out the party’s voters.

But while turnout more than doubled from the 2014 primary, about 82 percent of registered Democrats and Republicans didn’t participate in Tuesday’s election.

“It’s always so disappointing that we really prepare for every registered voter to show up and it bothers me when the numbers are low like that,” Election Commissioner Elaine Manlove said.

VOTE 1 COL by . With so many candidates running, there were a lot of disappointed people in the state Tuesday night.

But for the winners, it was a time of jubilation even as they began looking ahead to the general election on Nov. 8.

Lisa Blunt Rochester topped the field over five other Democrats, two of whom had raised substantial sums of money and figured to be serious contenders, to win the U.S. House of Representatives primary with ease.

As the results began trickling in, it didn’t take long for her to grab a lead.

She never relinquished it.

Ms. Blunt Rochester, the former state labor secretary, pulled in 44 percent of the 63,000-plus votes cast. State Sen. Bryan Townsend came in in second with only 25 percent.

As Ms. Blunt Rochester’s win became inevitable Tuesday night, Democrats around the state began issuing praise for the former cabinet secretary. If she wins in November she will be the first African-American and the first woman the state has sent to Congress.

Noting that, U.S. Sen. Chris Coons and Gov. Jack Markell both called her victory “historic.”

With registered Democrats outnumbering Republicans in the state 319,000 to 189,000, Ms. Blunt Rochester is considered likely to win the state’s lone seat in the U.S. House.

Despite the numbers, Republican nominee Hans Reigle, who did not face a primary contest Tuesday, believes his campaign can score the first congressional victory for a Delaware Republican since 2008. Noting a majority of Democrats did not participate in the primary, Mr. Reigle said he thinks he can ride a wave of dissatisfaction with government into office.

“There’s a lot of energy out there for outsiders and change, so I’m going to tap into that,” he said.

Mr. Reigle said his campaign had been preparing for either Ms. Blunt Rochester or Sen. Townsend.

The two candidates will debate next month at the University of Delaware.

Democratic U.S. Rep. John Carney, whose seat the candidates are seeking, praised Ms. Blunt Rochester and the other winners in a statement. He worked alongside her as a cabinet secretary under Gov. Tom Carper in the late 1990s.

As for that former boss, who is now Delaware’s senior U.S. senator, he raved about her Wednesday.

“She’s very good at trying to find common ground, at getting people to work together to collaborate,” Sen. Carper said.

Ms. Blunt Rochester started her political career as an intern with the the then U.S. Rep. Carper and stayed with him for years, eventually becoming head of the Department of Labor. Sen. Carper said much of her work centered on helping families and he expects that to continue if she wins the general election.

In other races, Bethany Hall-Long won a crowded Democratic primary for the lieutenant governor’s nomination and will face Republican La Mar Gunn in November.

Colin Bonini defeated Lacey Lafferty to score the Republican nomination for governor. He will face Rep. Carney.

Trinidad Navarro beat incumbent Insurance Commissioner Karen Weldin Stewart in a Democratic primary, and Jeff Cragg beat George Parish on the Republican side.

Sen. Coons, who said he hopes to work with Ms. Blunt Rochester after Nov. 8’s election, expressed excitement over the Democratic selections.
“We’ve nominated the most diverse and experienced slate of candidates I’ve ever seen,” he said.

Staff writer Matt Bittle can be reached at 741-8250 or mbittle@newszap.com. Follow @MatthewCBittle on Twitter.

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