State Democratic Party head asking candidates to drop out

DOVER — A letter from the head of the state Democratic Party has Democratic candidates for office fuming and protesting the establishment has overstepped its bounds.

In the letter, party Chairman John Daniello urged candidates to rethink their campaigns, warning that primaries could lead to divisiveness among Democrats and weaken the “eventual nominee’s electability.”

John Daniello

John Daniello

“Yes, primaries are a necessary part of the political process, but when they balloon to the size that ours have they benefit neither the candidate, nor the party, nor the community you seek to represent,” he wrote. “The electorate is spread so thin that, a candidate with support from only a small fraction of Democrats may end up representing the entire party in the general election. That is no way for a community to elect a leader.”

The letter, which Mr. Daniello said Thursday was sent to every Democratic candidate with a primary, also points to state Rep. Bryon Short, who dropped out of a crowded congressional race in April, as “a shining example of the type of objective thinking that this primary needs more of.”

While Mr. Daniello is adamant the note was not meant to target anyone, it has political aspirants speaking out in anger and calling for the party to let the voters decide September’s primary election.

03dsn Democrat Don Peterson by .

Don Peterson

Fourteenth Representative District hopeful Don Peterson called the letter “almost laughably offensive” and New Castle County executive candidate Matt Meyer in a statement blasted it as part of “the same old underhanded dealing that has benefited the few wealthy well connected insiders at the expense of the rest of us.”

Although the letter was mailed to both challengers and incumbents, the issue seems to have touched a nerve particularly with the non-officeholders.

“Voters should decide elections, and candidates and parties should respect voters,” congressional candidate and state Sen. Bryan Townsend wrote on Facebook. “I disagree with the letter sent by the Delaware Democratic Party to primary candidates across a number of races, urging us to reconsider our campaigns based on the idea that a primary process might hurt our eventual nominees.

Sen. Bryan Townsend

Sen. Bryan Townsend

“In a state where Democrats enjoy a strong registration advantage, primary elections are critical. In fact, if it weren’t for grassroots primary elections I would not have been elected a state senator in 2012. I believe that primary campaigns in which candidates respect voters and each other and focus on ideas can serve to strengthen our party’s eventual nominee and our democracy.”

Mr. Daniello said Thursday he felt many people had taken the letter wrong and rose into a furor over something not intended to upset recipients.

“I think primaries are not always helpful to the party,” he said. “It means the potential for a lot of divisions. It’s easy for the candidates after it’s over to shake hands and say it’s over but that’s not what happens to many of the followers of the individuals.”

Delaware has had some bruising primaries in the past. The 2008 Democratic gubernatorial primary featured some harsh words between then-treasurer Jack Markell and Lt. Gov. John Carney in a race won by the treasurer by 2.4 percent. He went on to win the general election in a landslide.

With four days remaining until the filing deadline, the state has primaries in abundance this year: 21 different offices currently have multiple Democrats running. That includes five seeking the state’s open seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, six running for lieutenant governor, three campaigning for insurance commissioner and eight different people battling it out for the party nomination for mayor of Wilmington.

Mr. Daniello said he is concerned the large number of offices with at least three people running on the Democratic side could lead to splits within the party.

The letter was intended to be helpful, he said, reminding candidates the deadline to drop out is soon and urging them to reconsider if they are serious.

“I believe some people think it’s like a lottery, all I have to do is get on the ballot and there’s a chance I can win the office,” h

Levy Court Commissioner Bradley Eaby

Levy Court Commissioner Bradley Eaby

But his statement in the message that “there is absolutely no room for vanity campaigns” has rubbed some the wrong way.

“At first when I read it and my family read it … we’re all like, ‘Are you kidding me?’” lieutenant governor candidate Brad Eaby said.

Congressional candidate Lisa Blunt Rochester said in a statement party officials and politicians need to ensure they are giving voters “a process worthy of their trust,” and fellow congressional hopeful Sean Barney said in a statement “the Democratic Party should trust its voters.”

Gov. Markell took a similar stance, praising the value of primary elections in a statement.
“Primary elections give the public a voice in the candidates they want to see represent their party in the general election,” he said.

“As someone who has been through the primary process, I can say with confidence that the process, even when contentious and difficult, made me a better candidate and a better governor. At the end of the day, elections for public office are for the people, not for any party, and if the public can then make educated decisions about who will earn their vote, I believe the state will be better for it.

Reach staff writer Matt Bittle at mbittle@newszap.com

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