In ‘blue state’ Delaware, Democrat who wins House primary viewed as likely to take seat

Delaware Vote logoDOVER — With one of the smallest populations among the 50 states, Delaware has the minimum number of congressional members. It joins six other states in sending only three people to Washington.

Coupled with the longevity of officials who hold those seats and the reluctance of many Delawareans to primary members of the congressional delegation, the state rarely has an election where a spot in Congress is up for grabs.

This year is one of those rare times where the status quo is not the favorite.

In fact, with Rep. John Carney seeking the governorship, it is guaranteed Delaware will have a new representative for just the third time in the past 24 years.

Six Democrats are competing for the Democratic nomination, and in a blue state, the winner of the Sept. 13 primary will be the favorite in November.

The competition is the most hyped primary the state has had in eight years, since Treasurer Jack Markell and Lt. Gov. John Carney squared off in a passionate and expensive race for the governor’s seat. The treasurer won by 2.4 percent.

Public criticism between the candidates in the 2016 House race has been rarer, although by no means absent.

Insiders and experts see the six hopefuls as falling into one of two categories: the serious contenders and the minor candidates.

State Sen. Bryan Townsend, former Labor Secretary Lisa Blunt Rochester and 2014 treasurer nominee Sean Barney all raised at least $395,000 through the first six months of the year and have the kind of political connections almost always necessary to win a major election.

In the other group fall Mike Miller, Scott Walker and Elias Weir. Mr. Miller has run unsuccessfully for the U.S. House three times and once for the state Senate, while Mr. Weir tried and failed three times to win a state legislative seat in New York. Mr. Walker has never sought political office before.

Sen. Townsend is the sole candidate with direct legislative experience, but Mr. Barney has worked for U.S. Sen. Tom Carper of Delaware and Gov. Jack Markell, and Ms. Blunt Rochester served as a state cabinet secretary for six years.

The winner of the primary will face Republican Hans Reigle and Libertarian Scott Gesty in November.

Delaware State University political science professor Sam Hoff sees Sen. Townsend and Ms. Blunt Rochester as the leaders.

Ms. Blunt Rochester has gained some ground in recent months, he said, creating “a really exciting race.”

Sen. Townsend’s name recognition as a state senator in the Newark area and his success in fundraising make him a formidable candidate, Dr. Hoff said.

Ms. Blunt Rochester’s donations are boosted by a self-loan of $179,000. She could benefit from a contentious mayoral primary in Wilmington potentially increasing voter turnout in the state’s largest city, where her father, Theodore, served on city council from 1985 to 2009.

State Rep. Bryon Short, D-Highland Woods, dropped out of the race in April, saying his campaign was falling behind in fundraising and did not have the resources necessary to compete.

A July poll from Fairleigh Dickinson University’s PublicMind and The News Journal found Sen. Townsend and Ms. Blunt Rochester tied for first in the Democratic primary, although 52 percent of those surveyed were undecided.

Perhaps bolstered by his campaign signs dotting the state’s major roadways, Mr. Miller was third.

Despite the poll, Dr. Hoff believes the ceiling for Mr. Miller, Mr. Walker and Mr. Weir is about 10 to 15 percent.

Polling from the Townsend campaign conducted in July has Sen. Townsend in the lead, according to a memo from the campaign. While 37 percent of respondents were undecided, Sen. Townsend led all candidates with 21 percent, with Ms. Blunt Rochester and Mr. Barney second and third, respectively.

Mr. Barney’s campaign, meanwhile, has polling from March showing Ms. Blunt Rochester with a narrow lead initially and Mr. Barney with the advantage once the candidates’ biographies are read, according to a report from the campaign. The survey, which came before Rep. Short dropped out, said 51 percent of Delawareans were initially unsure of who they would vote for.

Sen. Townsend has pulled in a host of big endorsements from unions, lawmakers and others, giving additional credence to claims of him as the leader.

The candidates are all Democrats but, predictably, they differ in some areas. Mr. Miller wants to lower tax rates on businesses, Mr. Walker has based much of his platform on fighting discrimination against the disabled and is the only one opposed to raising the minimum wage and Mr. Weir, relatively new to Delaware, is concerned about allocation of federal funds.

The other three have released policy proposals on a variety of initiatives, ranging from Social Security to gun control.

With the Democratic nominee likely to win the seat in November, the state’s representative will probably belong to the House’s minority party. Rep. Carney has been in the minority since he was sworn in in 2011, and before him, Republican Mike Castle was in the minority for the last four years of his tenure.

“Some people say it’s like a third senator,” Dr. Hoff said, noting the representative serves the entire state in an at-large district. Both senators and representatives have the same base salary of $174,000.

The primary is Sept. 13.

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