Newcomer Witzke wins GOP US Senate primary in Delaware

DOVER, Del. (AP) — A political newcomer and firebrand who campaigned on halting U.S. immigration for 10 years and has tried to distance herself from accusations that she supports a far-right conspiracy theory won the Republican U.S. Senate primary in Delaware on Tuesday, defeating the party’s endorsed candidate.

Lauren Witzke defeated attorney James DeMartino. Witzke will challenge incumbent Sen. Chris Coons in November.

DeMartino, a former Marine who has twice run unsuccessfully for the legislative seat held by Delaware’s Democratic state House speaker, was the Delaware Republican Party’s endorsed candidate.

Witzke, who worked as an Iowa field operator for Donald Trump last year, has tried to distance herself from accusations by some opponents that she supports QAnon. The far-right conspiracy theory centers on an alleged anonymous, high-ranking government official known as “Q,” who shares information about “deep state” enemies of Trump often tied to child sex trafficking.

Witzke told The Associated Press in January that she had stopped promoting QAnon months earlier, dismissing it as “mainstream psyops to get people to ‘trust the plan’ and not do anything.” QAnon followers often encourage each other to “trust the plan.”

“I certainly think it’s more hype than substance,” she said.

But Witzke has been photographed wearing a QAnon T-shirt and has used the QAnon slogan WWG1WGA (Where We Go One We Go All) in some of her Twitter hashtags.

Maggie Kosior, an 18-year-old college freshman from Dover, said she voted for Witzke because of her ties to QAnon.

“She is a supporter of them and so am I,” said Kosior, who believes there is a “deep-state” network of Trump enemies, some of whom have engaged in pedophilia. “They’re condemning the right people, I think.”

In other races Tuesday, Gov. John Carney and U.S. Sen. Chris Coons easily beat back challenges to win their Democratic primaries in Delaware on Tuesday, while an actor and retired Amtrak conductor defeated a political newcomer to win the GOP primary for a U.S. House seat currently held by a Democrat.

Carney coasted to victory over David Lamar Williams Jr. and Coons defeated progressive activist and political newcomer Jessica Scarane to advance to November’s general election.

Carney has said he wants to continue working on racial justice issues. He also said he wants to strengthen public schools, improve Delaware’s infrastructure and clean up the state’s waterways. Carney was elected governor in 2016 after serving three terms in the U.S. House. He served two terms as lieutenant governor from 2001 to 2009 but lost the 2008 Democratic gubernatorial primary to Jack Markell.

Six candidates are competing in the Republican gubernatorial primary amid GOP discontent over how Carney has handled the state’s coronavirus response. Attorney and political newcomer Julianne Murray, who has sued Carney in federal court over his coronavirus restrictions, is the GOP’s endorsed candidate.

Coons has served in the Senate since winning a special election in 2010 to fill the seat vacated by Joe Biden upon his election as vice president in 2008. Coons was reelected in 2014 to a full six-year term. He has developed a reputation for trying to work in a bipartisan manner despite usually voting in line with fellow Democrats. Scarane criticized Coons as being too eager to compromise with Republicans.

In the Republican primary for the 1st Congressional District, actor and retired Amtrak conductor Lee Murphy, who narrowly lost the House primary two years ago, defeated political newcomer Matthew Morris on Tuesday and advances to face incumbent Democrat Lisa Blunt Rochester in November.

At the state level, voters had a unique opportunity to upset the political status quo and change the trajectory of the Democratic Party in the solid-blue state. Democratic incumbents faced challengers in seven General Assembly races this year, more than double in the 2018 primary.

Many of this year’s challengers were inspired by the growing progressive movement within the Democratic Party nationally and took on incumbents who have served for decades in the legislature.

Meanwhile, the winner of a Democratic primary for an open senate seat in the 1st District was poised to make history. Transgender activist Sarah McBride defeated Joseph McCole to advance to the November general election, when she is favored to win. She would be the first transgender person elected to the General Assembly.

Officials had estimated that half of the votes cast on Tuesday would be by mail because of the coronavirus. In June, state lawmakers approved a bill authorizing universal voting by mail in primary, general and special elections.

As of Friday, almost 57,000 Democrats, or about 16.3% of registered Democrats in Delaware, had returned vote-by-mail or absentee ballots, compared to roughly 11,500 Republicans, representing only about 5.7% of registered GOP voters.

For comparison, total turnout in the 2018 primary was 25.4% for Democrats and 19.7% for Republicans. In the 2016 primary, it was 20% and 16%, respectively.

Meanwhile, the state Republican Party has filed a Chancery Court lawsuit asking a judge to declare the new vote-by-mail law unconstitutional and to issue an injunction preventing universal voting by mail in the November general election. The state’s response is due Wednesday.