With filing deadline past, which Delaware legislators are vulnerable?

DOVER — There are guaranteed to be two new faces in the General Assembly next year, but it is likely a few outcomes in this year’s elections surprise some.

With Sen. Karen Peterson, D-Stanton, and Rep. Harold “Jack” Peterman, R-Milford, not running for re-election, the 9th Senatorial and 33rd Representative districts are up for grabs. Additional turnover is a strong possibility as well.

Each of the past seven General Assembly sessions, which consist of two years apiece, have seen at least five new members after the November elections.

While it is doubtful more than a quarter of the legislature will be replaced, as happened after the 2012 elections, just a few changes could result in a major power shift.

The Democrats have controlled the Senate since 1973, but members of the GOP are hopeful that streak, which began

Senate Minority Leader Gary Simpson, R-Milford, back at work inside the Senate chamber Tuesday. (Delaware State News/Dave Chambers)

F, Gary Simpson

before several current lawmakers were born, will come to an end this year. Minority Leader F. Gary Simpson of Milford last week described himself as “cautiously optimistic” about his party’s chances.

The fate of 11 Senate seats, including the one vacated by Sen. Peterson, will be determined in later this year. If the GOP can hold its current seats, it can flip control of the chamber with two wins elsewhere, giving the party a greater role in governing the state.

Twenty-seven of the 52 seats in this year’s election are currently contested, with primaries in two senatorial districts and seven representative districts. Five representatives and one senator face foes from their own party.

The filing deadline for individual candidates was Tuesday, but the parties can still nominate people until Sept. 1. Thus, while the ballot is mostly finalized, it’s not quite set in stone.

In the Senate, four lawmakers are currently uncontested, meaning a hassle-free re-election is likely for Sens. Nicole Poore, David McBride, David Lawson and Brian Pettyjohn. Sens. Poore and McBride, who represent the 12th and 13th districts, respectively, are Democrats, while Sens. Lawson and Pettyjohn, of the 15th and 19th districts, are Republicans.

Sen. Peterson’s seat seems almost certain to remain in the hands of the Democrats, thanks to voter registration and the fact no Republicans have yet filed.

Statewide, there are about 130,000 more Democrats than Republicans, mostly owing to an imbalance in New Castle County. In Sussex, however, Democrats are in the minority, with a little more than 1,000 more registered Republicans there, according to the data from the Department of Elections.

Of the senatorial districts in this year’s election, none has a more even balance of Republican and Democratic voters than the 19th, where just 200 voters separate than the two parties. The district was held by Thurman Adams, a Democrat, from 1972 to 2009, although he had a conservative slant befitting the county.

Since his death seven years ago, the seat has been firmly controlled by the Republican Party.

Meredith Chapman

Meredith Chapman

None of the other Senatorial districts in this year’s election have a margin of less than 2,000 in either direction. The 8th Senatorial District, which has been represented by Sen. David Sokola since 1990, has about 2,000 more Democrats than Republicans, but the GOP has confidence newcomer Meredith Chapman can flip the Newark-area seat.

In Sussex, the 20th Senatorial District has about 2,300 more Republicans than Democrats, although it was held by Democrats for at least 40 consecutive years prior to 2012. Sen. Gerald Hocker, R-Ocean View, has been in the seat since then and this year will face Democrat Perry Mitchell.

Four senators, all of whom are not up for re-election this cycle, are running for higher office, meaning the state could have special elections for multiple seats soon after November. Two of those districts are Democratic strongholds, while registration numbers indicate a third is solidly blue.

The 16th Senatorial District, which is represented by Sen. Colin Bonini, a Dover Republican who is running for governor, has a smaller registration gap, with about 1,700 more Democrats.

It is possible the GOP could win two Senate seats this year while a Democrat moving on to higher office creates a special election that would determine which party gains the 11th seat needed to run the chamber.

House districts tend to be more evenly split, although Dover, New Castle and Wilmington are still near-certain Democratic areas. In 10 representative districts, Republicans and Democratic voter totals are separated by less than 500. Seven of these districts are in Sussex.

No representative district’s totals are closer than the 22nd’s, which features a Democratic edge of just 20 voters.

Despite the numbers, the New Castle County seat has been held by Republican Rep. Joseph Miro since 1998. He will face Democrat Lanette Edwards this year.

The district, which covers the Pike Creek area, sits between the Democratic-leaning municipalities of Newark and Newport and the upscale communities of Hockessin and Greenville.

Hockessin and Greenville make up the 12th Representative District, the only district in New Castle with more registered Republicans than Democrats (and, perhaps ironically, the home of Vice President Joe Biden).

In Kent, the 30th Representative District, stretching throughout the southwest quarter of the county, gives a slight edge to Republicans. Rep. William “Bobby” Outten, R-Harrington, is unopposed thus far.

The 33rd District figures to be one of the most hotly contested battlegrounds this year, with three Republicans and one Democrat competing for the Milford-area seat vacated by Rep. Peterman.

Rep. Stephen Smyk, R-Milton, will have to best Democrat Barbara Vaughan to win his third term in the 20th

Rep. Stephen T. Smyk

Rep. Stephen T. Smyk

Representative District, which was created in 2012.

To the west lies the 35th District. Although it currently has a nominal Democratic edge of less than 100 voters, the area has been held by Republicans for 36 years. With no Democrats having filed for the office, that is unlikely to change, although incumbent Rep. David Wilson of Bridgeville will have to fight off fellow Republican Robert Mitchell to keep the position.

The 36th and 40th districts are also uncontested, while the 39th features only a Libertarian opponent. All three locations are represented by Republicans.

The 37th District, a narrow area stretching from Georgetown to Long Neck, has about 100 more Democrats, though challenger Paulette Rappa was only able to garner one-third of the vote against Rep. Ruth Briggs King, R-Georgetown, two years ago. The two will square off again this year.

Four first-term representatives are looking to defend their seat against challengers. With both Democratic and Republican hopefuls having filed, Rep. Sean Matthews, D-Talleyville, is the only member of the class of 2014, and one of five incumbents, who must win two elections to keep the seat.

Rep. Matthews’ Democratic challenger is former officeholder Dennis E. Williams, whom he upended in the primary two years ago.

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.