Sen. Coons to face primary challenge in 2020

DOVER — U.S. Sen. Chris Coons is the latest Democrat to get a primary challenge from the left.

Jessica Scarane, a Wilmington-based digital strategist who serves as the board president of the nonprofit Girls Inc. of Delaware, announced Monday she plans to run against Sen. Coons next year.

Ms. Scarane, 34, is running on a progressive platform that includes implementing universal health care, a $15 minimum wage and tuition-free college and taking major steps to tackle climate change.

Other areas of focus listed on her website include legalizing marijuana, lessening the influence of money in politics, raising corporate taxes and scaling back military operations.

“Delaware deserves better, and that’s why I’m running,” she said in a statement. “I will listen to all Delawareans, not just the wealthy few or the political elites or the corporations. We need to lead on a Green New Deal and Medicare for All. We need real economic justice, and we need to hold true to our values as Democrats.”

Jessica Scarane

Ms. Scarane’s platform is similar to that adopted by some left-leaning Democrats nationwide since the election of President Trump in 2016. The party is currently facing a schism between more moderate Democrats like Sen. Coons and those who want a bolder, more progressive party, like U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York.

Two of the leading Democratic presidential candidates, Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, have put forth proposals with many similarities to Ms. Scarane’s.

In contrast, Sen. Coons, who is backing former Vice President Joe Biden’s campaign, has warned the Democratic Party risks alienating voters if it shifts too far to the left.

Sen. Coons has angered some Democrats for his bipartisan, compromise-based approach. He’s worked closely with Republicans since being elected in 2010, emphasizing Americans want Congress to pass legislation despite the deep political divide in the country.

“I’m proud to be a Delaware Democrat and to fight for our principles. That means challenging President Trump and his allies in Congress when they run afoul of our most basic values as a nation, but I’m also someone who works across the aisle to get done what we can in this environment to make our state and our community stronger,” he said in a statement.

“I look forward to this election as another chance to listen to Delaware voters and to make sure I’m reflecting our values and priorities.”

As of Sept. 30, Sen. Coons had more than $2.1 million in his campaign account.

A 2018 Politico article referred to him as “the GOP’s favorite Democrat,” a label some see as a point of pride and others view as a scarlet letter of sorts. The group Demand Justice, which describes itself as a “progressive movement dedicated to fighting Donald Trump’s takeover of our courts,” has run ads bashing Sen. Coons for supporting some of the president’s judicial nominees.

According to 538, Sen. Coons has voted in line with President Trump’s position about 28 percent of the time, 3 percent less than expected based on the 2016 election results in Delaware. Ten Democratic senators have fallen on the same side of issues as the president more frequently.

“Senator Coons isn’t fighting for us. He has repeatedly made compromises with Republicans at the expense of Delawareans,” Ms. Scarane said in a statement.

“A key moment for me was watching him vote to confirm Alex Azar, Trump’s nominee for Secretary of Health and Human Services  —  this is a man who has lobbied for Big Pharma and who is opposed to abortion rights  — because they were buddies at Yale Law School. That’s just unacceptable to me, and it made me realize that we have to be the leaders we’re looking for to change this power structure ourselves.”

Ms. Scarane is not the first Delawarean to primary a powerful incumbent in recent years. Christine O’Donnell stunned then Rep. Mike Castle in the 2010 GOP Senate primary, paving the way for Sen. Coons, while progressive activist Kerri Evelyn Harris challenged U.S. Sen. Tom Carper last year.

Sen. Carper, a Democrat who has never lost an election in more than 40 years, garnered about 64.6 percent of the vote to turn back the push from his left.

Sen. Coons was elected with 56.6 percent of the vote in a 2010 special election cycle and won a second term in 2014, a very strong year for the GOP, picking up 55.8 percent of ballots cast. Polling conducted by Morning Consult from July through September reported he has a net approval rating of plus 25, in line with a September 2018 poll from the University of Delaware’s Center for Political Communication.

That UD survey also found 68 percent of respondents support Medicare for all, which Ms. Scarane backs.

Ms. Scarane would be the first woman Delaware has sent to the Senate. Currently, she would also be the youngest member of the chamber.

The primary is on Sept. 15.

Staff writer Matt Bittle can be reached at 741-8250 or mbittle@newszap.com. Follow @MatthewCBittle on Twitter.

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