Commentary: Delaware campaign landscape has begun to change

By Frank Calio

Delaware Democrats must be wondering after the recent primaries if, like the successful results of progressive Democrats, a similar wave of Delaware Republican Tea Party candidates has overtaken the old-line conservatives and caused a split in the party from below the canal.

Frank Calio

Primary night was a big night for progressive activists hoping to push the Democratic Party further to the left, as they saw four upset victories that could help advance their agenda. With the upset of President Pro Tempore David McBride, the second-longest-serving Democrat who played a pivotal role in holding back gun legislation despite a majority of his fellow Democrats supporting new legislation, it looks more likely that gun-control legislation and other issues, like marijuana and criminal justice reform, could take front and center in the upcoming session if these progressives are elected.

Three other Democratic incumbents were knocked off in the primary: Reps. John Viola, Earl Jaques and first-termer Ray Seigfried were victims of the progressive group’s challenges.

Politically, demographics are divided in Delaware, with the New Castle County registration favoring the Democrats by a wide margin, and the southern two counties registering very conservatively.

Although Sussex and Kent counties vote predominately Republican for statewide candidates, the overwhelmingly Democratic registration in New Castle County and Wilmington has given all the statewide offices to Democrats. State Auditor Tom Wagner was the longest Republican statewide officeholder until his retirement at the last election.

Because most of the legislative seats are in New Castle County, the Democrats have a majority in the state Senate and House.

It was just the opposite in the ’60s with New Castle County being predominately Republican, with Wilmington being Democratic, and the southern two counties being Democratic — with the exception of a district in the Lewes and Rehoboth Beach area. Younger people moved into New Castle County, registering as Democrats, and with retirees moving from nearby states to Sussex and Kent, more of them are registered Republicans. While the Democrats held a modest registration advantage, all officeholders with the exception of one were held by Republicans. The County Council in Sussex for 20 years was controlled by Democrats; now, you see all five seats controlled by Republicans.

Republicans are still reeling from the 2010 Tea Party primary win with the loss of heavily favored U.S. Rep. Mike Castle to Christine O’Donnell, after she charmed Sussex Democrats who gave her 15,000 votes to pull the upset. Democrat Chris Coons, an underdog prior to the primary, defeated O’Donnell by 17 percentage points.

Coons is currently seeking reelection against Republican Lauren Witzke, who has already made waves with her Facebook page negativity about the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Despite pleas from state Republican Chairwoman Jane Brady and some members of Witzke’s party to take a different route to her campaign comments, she has refused to do so, alienating some members of her party.

This campaign promises to be one we never anticipated, like the coronavirus, which won’t go away. Our president continues to daily keep Americans divided, confused and worried about voting ballots and a possible Supreme Court decision on the election.

As a former Delaware state election commissioner who was on the ground floor of President George Bush’s 2000 Help America Vote Act — which gave all states, including Delaware, millions of dollars to upgrade their voting machines, mandating that they abide by a uniform voting system — I feel the voting system we have in this country is the safest, fairest and most honest voting system in the world.

For years, many states have had statewide mail-in ballots. All states have absentee ballots. Also for many years, states, including Delaware, have allowed their military members to vote by absentee ballot with no fraud.

To ease your mind about fraudulent voting fears being promoted by our president — by the way, he and his family members vote absentee — I urge you to spend a few minutes on the internet typing in, “Is there fraudulent voting in the U.S.?” Then, you’ll find the truth.

By all means, please vote. This year, because of the virus, for the first time in Delaware, everyone will have the opportunity to vote with a mail-in ballot. Do so and do it early.

Frank Calio is a native of Laurel and a former Delaware state election commissioner.