Voter turnout impressive in Thursday’s primaries

DOVER — Delaware Democrats and Republicans on Thursday both recorded their second highest turnout for a primary in the past 10 elections.

A quarter of the nearly 327,000 registered Democrats cast ballots, while 20 percent of the approximately 192,000 Republican voters went to polling places to pick candidates.

About 83,000 Democrats voted in the primary between Sen. Tom Carper and progressive challenger Kerri Harris — a record for a non-presidential race in a Delaware primary. For comparison, about 93,600 Democrats voted in the 2016 presidential primary.

In addition to the Senate primary, Democratic candidates for auditor and attorney general were on the ballot, along with a host of individuals running for seats in the General Assembly. The Republican Party also boasted a primary for the U.S. Senate, as well as a House race and a few legislative contests.

Also, 2008 is the sole year to surpass 2018’s Democratic turnout. Largely driven by a very competitive contest to determine the gubernatorial nominee, the party recorded turnout of 28 percent that year.

For Republicans, only 2010 saw more engagement than 2018, with 32 percent of GOP voters casting ballots. That number was due to a high-profile contest between Mike Castle and tea party candidate Christine O’Donnell, with both seeking the Republican Party’s nomination for the Senate.

This year, Ms. Harris hoped to stun Sen. Carper by running from his left, emulating a model used by liberal candidates in several other states. The race received attention from the national media, but hopes for an upset were thwarted, as Sen. Carper gained 64.6 percent of the vote to remain undefeated in his long political career.

He won all 41 state House districts, collecting 63.2 percent of Democratic votes in New Castle County, 64.2 percent in Kent County and 69.6 percent in Sussex County.

Tom Carper and his wife celebrate his victory Thursday night as he wins nomination to
run for a fourth term in the U.S. Senate.

In the other Senate primary, Rob Arlett trounced Gene Truono and Roque De La Fuente, collecting 66.8 percent of ballots cast on the GOP side. He claimed 38 districts, with Mr. Truono earning more votes only in the 1st, 4th and 12th Representative districts, all of which sit in northern New Castle.

Mr. Arlett, a Sussex resident, dominated downstate, earning more than four times as many votes as Mr. Truono. He also won a majority in New Castle, Mr. Truono’s home turf.

Because of the higher Democratic turnout and the large registration advantage the party holds, Ms. Harris earned more votes than Mr. Arlett despite losing her race.

Delaware Democratic Party Executive Director Jesse Chadderdon attributed the turnout to outreach by the party and to a motivated base.

“I think, first and foremost, there’s clearly an energy within our party,” he said. “The national climate and just the overall sort of sense of wanting to express ourselves with our votes and sort of take the country back in a direction that we think is positive.”

Mr. Chadderdon said party officials and volunteers worked closely to assist candidates and inform voters but were still “pleasantly surprised” by the turnout given Thursday’s heat and the fact the primary was not held on a Tuesday, as is typical.

The election this year was moved by lawmakers because the second Tuesday after the first Monday in September is the Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashanah.

In the House Republican primary, Lee Murphy won majorities in most New Castle districts but still fell to Scott Walker, whom the party chairman had dismissed as unqualified. The two candidates actually tied in two districts, collecting 83 votes apiece in the 1st and 88 in the 16th.

Mr. Walker, who got 53 percent of the vote, narrowly lost New Castle but took care of business downstate. The Milford resident ran unsuccessfully for the Democratic nomination for the House in 2016, garnering 5 percent of the vote in a six-way primary.

His victory this time around was so unexpected Mr. Murphy’s campaign already had announced it would hold a news conference the day after the primary election to kick off Mr. Murphy’s effort to defeat Democratic Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester in November.

Thursday night, after it became clear Mr. Walker would win the GOP nomination, Chairman Mike Harrington said he was “completely and utterly shocked.”

At some point either late Thursday or early Friday, the Murphy campaign made a Facebook post questioning the outcome of the House primary. It was later taken down.

“Friends thanks for all your support — something stinks here and I will not be conceding anytime soon,” the campaign wrote. “Need to investigate big time. A Dem wins a Republican primary?”

Mr. Murphy said Friday he was “shell-shocked” over the outcome. While the results won’t be certified until Monday and the Republican Party, according to Mr. Murphy, planned to seek more details about the vote total from the Department of Elections, it would appear there is no recourse for Mr. Murphy and the GOP.

Republican Party officials could not be reached for comment.

Election Commissioner Elaine Manlove dismissed Mr. Murphy’s concerns of the result being tainted in some way, saying, “I really don’t have enough time to fix elections.”

Elsewhere, Kathy Jennings won a majority of Democratic votes in the attorney general primary, easily topping her three competitors. LaKresha Roberts won the 1st and 16th Representative districts, two of the four that are majority black, according to state mapping data.

As of the end of August, Ms. Jennings had raised nearly $475,000 this year, more than three times what her opponents collected combined.

Among the three statewide Democratic primaries, the auditor’s contest was by far the closest. Kathy McGuiness picked up 41.9 percent of the vote, ahead of Kathleen Davies’ 34.9 percent and Dennis E. Williams’ 23.2 percent.

Ms. Davies won 12 House districts, while Mr. Williams claimed victory in three.

Other than Mr. Murphy in New Castle and Ms. Davies in Kent — each of whom lives in the respective county — no candidate who lost his or her race earned more votes in a county than the winner.

Ms. Manlove said the day went smoothly, with a few minor exceptions. One polling place in Bellefonte opened about an hour late because someone forgot to unlock the doors, while workers at a voting site in Wilmington forgot to adjust a setting on the voting machines there, delaying the casting of ballots by about 15 minutes.

After polls closed at 8, results were a bit slow to be posted online because of an issue with absentee ballots. Kent County officials sent the absentee ballots there to the wrong email address, and because absentee votes are required to be posted first, no results were online until about 8:50.

Ms. Manlove said the turnout did surprise her a bit, noting it surpassed recent primaries in non-presidential years.

“I never know what to expect,” she said. “I try not to guess on turnout.”

Her goal is 100 percent participation, and while she acknowledged that’s unrealistic, Ms. Manlove expressed a little disappointment over the fact more eligible voters stayed home than cast ballots.

The department dispatched about 3,000 workers, who staff the polling places for more than 14 consecutive hours, to hundreds of sites around the state.

The general election is Nov. 6.

 

Reach staff writer Matt Bittle at mbittle@newszap.com

You are encouraged to leave relevant comments but engaging in personal attacks, threats, online bullying or commercial spam will not be allowed. All comments should remain within the bounds of fair play and civility. (You can disagree with others courteously, without being disagreeable.) Feel free to express yourself but keep an open mind toward finding value in what others say. To report abuse or spam, click the X in the upper right corner of the comment box.

Facebook Comment