Democrats increase lead in state Senate, 12-9

WILMINGTON — The state Senate remains under Democratic control.

Not only did the party hold off an attempt by the Republicans to flip the chamber but Laura Sturgeon defeated Minority Whip Greg Lavelle in the 4th Senatorial District. Coupled with Democrats triumphing in the open 17th Senatorial District and defending two other seats, and the party now holds a 12-9 edge.

The Democratic Party has held the Senate since 1973, but Republicans made gains in every one of the past four elections before Tuesday. Although the GOP fell short in a February 2017 special election, it held hopes of flipping the chamber Tuesday, aided by the retirement of Democratic Sen. Brian Bushweller.

Instead, the Democratic Party held firm, with Trey Paradee defeating Justin King in the 17th. The now Sen. Paradee, who had held the 29th Representative District seat since 2012, claimed 64.3 percent of the vote.

He was favored to win in the Dover district, which has the highest percentage of Democratic voters among any state Senate area in Kent or Sussex.

In northern New Castle County, Sen. Lavelle, who was poised to take over as minority leader with Sen. Gary Simpson retiring, suffered a defeat. The perennial thorn in the Democratic Party’s side was elected to the House in 2000 and the Senate in 2012. He won re-election in 2014 with 61.9 percent of the vote.

Dave Wilson

This time, however, he came up short in what proved to be an expensive race, with the two combining to raise about $445,000 since the start of 2017, counting a self-loan from Sen. Lavelle to his campaign.

“Laura Sturgeon worked very hard, was a very credible candidate and was right on the issues,” David McBride, a New Castle Democrat who served as Senate president pro tempore over the past two years, said.

Chants of “Laura! Laura! Laura!” broke out just before Ms. Sturgeon took the stage Tuesday night at the Democratic celebration in Wilmington.

“We knocked on about 25,000 doors,” the new senator told the crowd.

In the open 18th Senatorial District, Dave Wilson topped James Purcell to keep the seat in Republican hands. He pulled in 65.2 percent of the vote.

The now Sen. Wilson spent 10 years in the House before announcing earlier this year he planned to succeed Sen. Simpson in the 18th Senatorial District.

Sen. Simpson, a Milford Republican, served in the General Assembly for 20 years, the last 10 as minority leader. He had not publicly announced his retirement before Sen. Wilson revealed he intended to run for the seat.

Republican Sen. Colin Bonini held off his Democratic foe, Louisa Phillips, in the 16th Senatorial District, which covers the outskirts of Dover and the county’s southeastern portion. Sen. Bonini, who was first elected in 1994, earned 55.1 percent of ballots cast.

Republican Sen. Ernie Lopez won reelection to the 6th Senatorial District by defeating Democratic nominee Dave Baker. Sen. Lopez received 52.7 percent of the vote in the Lewes-area jurisdiction.

On the other side of Sussex County, Sen. Bryant Richardson earned a second term representing the Seaford area, as he gained 65 in the 21st Senatorial District race. He was running against Democrat Bob Wheatley.

Sen. Richardson said Tuesday night he “was very pleased with that” percentage.

“I think people realize that I am a fulltime senator. I’ve worked hard on the issues that matter the most to people. The fact that I was the author of the Delaware Youth Drug Prevention Curriculum Task Force, I think that showing that I want to fight the drug problem head-on weighed in there. And the other issues that are important to me are the life issue and the liberty, the taxation thing. The government shouldn’t be growing in size. Any time there is a problem throw some more money at it, that doesn’t solve the problem, it only causes more spending.”

Mr. Wheatley, on Tuesday night after results came in, attributed the loss to voters aligning with political parties.

“I think if you look at my race and you look at (defeated treasurer) Kenny Simpler’s race, they both tell you the same story. Voters really are not voting based on the candidates or the candidate qualification or the issues. They are voting on the party.”

“I had hoped that we could overcome that but clearly we could not. And the issue is further aggravated in the 21st District by the fact that many of the folks who are registered Democrat won’t even consider voting for a Democrat. I ran into that on the campaign. I had a number of people say, ‘Well, I am a registered Democrat, but I vote straight Republican, period.’ So that is the situation we are in.

“It is certainly disappointing because we ran an issues-based campaign. It was largely non-partisan. In fact, it was completely non-partisan. I didn’t campaign with other Democrats or any of that because I was trying to get people to look at the candidate qualifications and the issues we were running on,” he said.

 

Reach staff writer Matt Bittle at mbittle@newszap.com

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