State Sen. Bonini running for governor again

DOVER — Backed by “significant financial support,” state Sen. Colin Bonini is running for governor. Sen. Bonini, a Dover Republican who lost to Democratic Gov. John Carney in 2016, announced Friday he plans to seek the governor’s office again.

Echoing many of the same themes from 2016, he said the state has been going nowhere for a long time and is now heading there even faster.

The Democratic Party “has lost its mind. Look around you, the evidence is clear,” he said, blasting the recent protests over racism and police brutality, a bill approved Thursday allowing voting by mail and Wilmington’s decision to temporarily take down a statue of Caesar Rodney to keep it safe from potential vandals.

Sen. Bonini garnered 39% of the vote in the 2016 general election after winning a primary over a fringe contender. Friday, he described himself as hopeful the situation will be different this time.

Colin Bonini

But any member of the GOP running statewide in Delaware faces an uphill battle: About 48% of registered voters in the state are Democrats, compared to the 27% who identify as Republicans.

Delaware has not elected a Republican governor since 1988, and with Gov. Carney seeking a second term, that streak is likely to continue.

As reported by The Washington Post, 73% of Delawareans in a May SurveyMonkey poll said they approved of how Gov. Carney has handled the state’s response to the outbreak. That figure was tied for 15th overall and seventh out of the 24 Democratic governors.

Aside from William Swain Lee in 2004, none of the GOP nominees for governor have hit 40% of the vote total in the past seven such elections.

Sen. Bonini is set to face several Republicans, including fellow state Sen. Bryant Richardson, in a primary but is hopeful he can win the party nomination without such a contest. A primary before the general election would only help Democrats, he said.

As for what separates him from those other contenders, Sen. Bonini thinks that’s clear: He is the only one with a chance to win the governor’s office. Not only does he have high name recognition, Sen. Bonini said, he has plenty of contributed cash, although he wouldn’t specify where the money came from, noting only it will be in his August campaign finance report.

First elected to the Senate in 1994, he is the longest-serving active Republican in the legislature. Unabashedly conservative, he holds many standard Republican views like fewer government regulations and stricter punishments for lawbreakers. Likely more than anyone in the legislature, he is sometimes the lone holdout on otherwise unanimous bills, such as the annual budget.

His Senate seat is not up this year.

In addition to his prior gubernatorial bid, he ran for treasurer in 2010 and came up just short of winning, with 49%.

During his 2016 campaign, Sen. Bonini described Gov. Carney as a “great guy” and admitted he had voted for him before. He said the two are still friends but have fundamentally different perspectives about key issues.

One of those is COVID-19. Although he avoided directly criticizing the governor’s actions, Sen. Bonini said officials should have been more willing to keep businesses and other establishments open, only shutting them down in the face of a clear and present danger.

For his part, Gov. Carney has consistently described coronavirus as such a threat, as have nearly all health experts.

But like many Republicans, Sen. Bonini believes the state would be best served by focusing its resources on the elderly and those with underlying health issues, who are most at risk. Nursing homes in particular have been devastated by the pandemic here, accounting for about two-thirds of deaths but just 10% of cases.

To Sen. Bonini, there’s little reason not to return to something close to life as normal but with special protections around those high-risk populations and locations. But while many believe the virus is fading, evidence suggests it is not: States that have begun reopening have seen increases in cases, and Gov. Carney on Thursday announced he is postponing the latest phase, which was set for Monday, as a precaution.

The Republican also said officials should be looking at data other than simply new cases, arguing the daily increase is driven in part by the volume of testing — something Gov. Carney has acknowledged. The governor has consistently described hospitalization numbers and percentage of new positive tests as his most important metrics for decision-making.

Sen. Bonini said Friday Delaware needs to have a serious conversation about treatment of its Black residents, something many other officials in the state have recently acknowledged. But he figures to have difficulty earning much of the Black vote, which would be a big factor in pulling off a November surprise.

For one thing, he earned only 17% of the votes in 2016 in the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th Senatorial districts. Those districts cover the city of Wilmington, which is 58% Black, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. (Delaware does not have voting data by race.)

For another, the senator has consistently opposed many aspects of criminal justice reform, which generally poll well with Black Americans, and he drew gasps from some Delaware State University students in 2016 for a past vote against a measure formally apologizing for slavery.

Asked Friday about the opposition to a slavery apology, Sen. Bonini said he does not think Delawareans should be judged for mistakes made 150 years ago. Rather, he said, the best ways to help Black Delawareans is with economic prosperity — items one through nine of his 10-point list of areas of focus, the senator noted — rather than “empty gestures.”

Delaware’s primary election is Sept. 15. The general contest is Nov. 3.