Republican U.S. Senate Primary: Arlett vs. Truono

DOVER — It’s been 18 years since Delaware has had a Republican senator. Both Rob Arlett and Gene Truono think that they can change that.

While most of the attention has been focused on the Democratic side, where Kerri Evelyn Harris is aiming to unseat Sen. Tom Carper, Republican voters will also be able to nominate a candidate for the U.S. Senate when they go to the polls Thursday.

The Republican primary pits downstate against upstate as Mr. Arlett, a realtor and Sussex County councilman, squares off with Mr. Truono, a former PayPal executive.

Both candidates believe Delaware’s all-Democratic congressional delegation has failed to protect the interests of the majority of Delawareans, and both support President Donald Trump and his agenda.

“People throughout the state were wanting representation for them in Washington, D.C., and because I have proven to be the agent of change to go across the grain, to go across the good ol’ boy network, to go across the status quo, that’s why we were encouraged by many to do so and ultimately that’s why we as a family made a decision to run,” Mr. Arlett said. “Because we do need representation for the people in D.C. and that’s not what we have today.”

Mr. Truono’s motivation is similar, being born out of dissatisfaction with the progress — or lack thereof — coming out of Congress.

“Throughout my whole life I’ve just found the frustration that I think a lot of people have,” he said. “The folks in Washington don’t understand how things work.”

Background

Neither man sees himself as a politician. Mr. Truono believes his skills and knowledge gained from decades in the private sector will allow him to grow the economy, reduce government and deliver positive results for Delawareans, while Mr. Arlett paints himself as a man of the masses.

Rob Arlett

The Sussex County councilman says he never anticipated entering politics. In 2014, he was convinced by friends to run for Sussex County Council and beat incumbent Vance Phillips in a primary. Two months later, he defeated the Democratic candidate.

In 2016, the Trump campaign came calling, asking Mr. Arlett to be the state chairman. The businessman and former reality TV star won the GOP primary for Delaware, and Mr. Arlett attended the Republican National Convention in July.

Mr. Arlett’s star continued to rise after President Trump’s upset victory in the November 2016, and he helped the Presidential Inaugural Committee plan the swearing-in ceremony.

Earlier this year, the 51-year-old announced his candidacy for the Senate, the latest step in a “silly journey.”

He opted not to seek another term on County Council even though he is legally able to run for both offices and is confident he would have won.

“We’re in this to make a difference, and we did not want to send a message as we were running for the U.S. Senate that we were seeking a backup. We’re all in,” he said.

A member of a military family, he served in the Naval Reserve and has lived in Delaware since 2006. Mr. Arlett, a self-described staunch family man and strong Christian, currently resides in Selbyville.

Gene Truono

Mr. Truono, a native Delawarean, spent more than three decades in financial services, working for Wilmington Trust, JPMorgan Chase & Co., American Express and PayPal. As the chief compliance officer for PayPal, Mr. Truono worked with regulators across the world and served on a group that advised the director of the U.S. Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network.

In 2014, he took an early retirement and moved back to Delaware to care for his ailing mother. Today he lives north of Greenville.

Like Mr. Arlett, he’s running for office out of a belief Delawareans want and deserve change.

“The fact of the matter is we have one-party rule in Delaware,” Mr. Truono, 60, said, referencing the fact most elected offices in Delaware are held by Democrats.

Mr. Truono would join a short list of openly gay politicians. No openly gay Republican currently serves in Congress.

Policies

The candidates are similar in many respects in regard to their viewpoints and goals.

Both supported the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 and believe fewer regulations and low taxes will boost business growth.

The 2017 tax cuts have already paid off by encouraging companies to invest in their equipment and plants, Mr. Truono said.

“By lowering the tax rate to make us more competitive, it will bring companies, it will keep companies in the United States, which will stimulate the economy and create jobs,” he said.

In sharp contrast to his potential Democratic opponents, Mr. Truono considers the national debt, which exceeds $21 trillion, to be the single most important issue threatening the nation’s stability.

Each of the two aims to undo the Affordable Care Act, believing it has made health care too expensive for the average American. Mr. Truono favors letting the free-market dictate health care pricing and implementing job requirements for welfare recipients who are able to work.

“Big government programs aren’t always the solutions,” he said.

After a career spent in finance, he sees himself as the right person to help Delaware harness the power of cryptocurrencies like bitcoin.

Mr. Arlett, meanwhile, believes his experience on Sussex County Council, where he pushed a controversial and ultimately unsuccessful right-to-work proposal, makes him the best candidate. Mr. Truono, he alleged, is “a person of corporations and big business.”

While avoiding direct criticism of his primary opponent, Mr. Truono urged voters to consider who has the best shot to defeat Sen. Carper in November.

Neither candidate is a fan of the Affordable Care Act and both want to shrink government. In a debate last month, Mr. Arlett called for an audit of all government bodies, while Mr. Truono endorsed a proposal from the White House to merge the Department of Education and the Department of Labor.

Each candidate also supports President Trump’s border wall plan. That’s an area Mr. Arlett especially feels strongly about, believing it’s an issue that impacts not just the country but Delaware as well.

“We have people that are in office today that have encouraged and supported illegal immigration in our state,” he said.

“They have put a priority on the illegal immigrants over our own residents, and that’s just unacceptable in my mind and I think that they have, again, lost touch of reality and their job and their role as an elected official when they raise their right hand to uphold and defend the U.S. Constitution, and they’re not doing that.”

Schools are required to educate all students regardless of proof of citizenship and some businesses employ “illegals” so they can save money by paying lower wages, he said.

Even among individuals who have been living in the country illegally for decades or were brought here as young children, only those have not committed crimes and want to be productive members of society should get chances to remain, Mr. Arlett believes.

“If they are assimilating into our country and if they are desiring to be here and be a productive citizen in a positive manner, then let’s look at the next steps,” said Mr. Arlett, who is fond of noting his wife, Lorna, is an immigrant from Vietnam who entered the country lawfully.

“The next steps, as far as I’m concerned, is consider all options, and that could include getting at the bottom of the list and find a legal pathway to be here. And then let’s have that conversation. They are not going to be in front of others that are doing it properly. They’re not going to be placed in front of the American people that are here.”

Mr. Truono is confident a stricter immigration policy will reduce human trafficking and lead to fewer drugs, especially opioids, entering the country. He supports tying the number of immigrants allowed in to the number of jobs companies need to fill.

“Nobody is saying we don’t want immigrants in this country,” he said.

POTUS and more

Each candidate is a strong supporter of President Trump. While acknowledging they don’t agree with some of his inflammatory comments and would personally act a little differently, the two believe the president is helping fulfill his campaign promise to make America great again.

“I think people can’t distinguish between the man and what he’s done, but when you run through his list of accomplishments I support it,” Mr. Truono said.

Pointing to the exiting of the Iran deal, summit with North Korea and foreign tariffs, he believes President Trump may go down as an all-time great in the field of foreign policy.

Mr. Arlett described President Trump as a tough leader who fights the status quo in an effort to benefit regular Americans and “has brought pride and patriotism back to our country.”

The economy is booming and unemployment is low, signs of the merits of the White House’s approach, each candidate opined.

Neither man sees much validity in claims of collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign. The two believe the investigation led by former FBI head Robert Mueller has failed to turn up much that relates to the president and feel Russia’s interference in the presidential election has been overblown.

Each candidate has taken shots at Sen. Carper, who is seeking his fourth term. Mr. Arlett called him “withdrawn from reality because he’s never signed a check on the front,” while Mr. Truono feels he has shifted away from the center and toward “socialist programs.”

Mr. Truono said he would only serve two six-year terms at most if elected and Mr. Arlett said he believes senators should be constitutionally limited to two terms.

Technically, they aren’t the only Republican Senate hopefuls on the ballot. Also running is Roque De La Fuente, a California businessman who appeared on the ballot in the 2016 presidential election in 20 states and sought U.S. Senate seats in seven other states this year. Neither the U.S. Constitution nor Delaware law forbids him from doing so.

Reach staff writer Matt Bittle at mbittle@newszap.com

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