Delaware: Election Victory for Democrats Despite Spike in Republican, Third-Party Turnout

By Hannah Biener

The night of November 8, Democrats gathered in the Double Tree Hotel on North King Street to watch the local election results roll in. The crowd erupted as Lisa Blunt Rochester, former Secretary of Labor under Governor Ruth Ann Minner, was declared the winner of Delaware’s sole seat in the House of Representatives. Rochester is the first woman and the first person of color to represent Delaware in Washington, a historic achievement.

Sophomore Sascha Bretzger attended the festivities. “[Senator] Tom Carper introduced Lisa Blunt Rochester, which was met with a lot of cheers,” Bretzger described. “When she came on stage, all her campaign members and her family were dancing to a Jackson Five song. Everyone was excited about the new perspective she will bring to Washington.”

The results down the ballot boded well for Democrats. John Carney, Delaware’s previous Congressperson, defeated Republican Colin Bonini in his bid for Governor. Bethany Hall Long also emerged victorious in the race for Lieutenant Governor, beating Republican La Mar Gunn. Both Bonini and Gunn received about 40% of all machine votes for their respective races.

Yet Democrats suffered a blow in a key race for the State Legislature. The highest-ranking representative in the Delaware State Senate Patricia Blevins lost in a shocking upset by 282 votes to her Republican challenger Anthony Delcollo. This reduces the majority Democrats held before the election, leaving them with only a one seat lead over the Republicans.

The State Senate is responsible for a lot of legislation that affects Delawareans, like a bill that decriminalizes small amounts of marijuana or a bill that closes the gun-show loophole for firearm purchases. Democrats losing their majority would impact the future of progressive bills like those.

The local election results, however, often misrepresent Delaware’s electorate. Despite the Democratic Party’s broad victory, Republican voter turnout ticked up from the general election four years ago, and Democratic votes were down significantly. In 2012, Democrat Barack Obama received about 240,00 votes compared to Republican Mitt Romney’s 165,000. In 2016, however, Democrat Hillary Clinton won only 235,000 votes statewide, and Republican Donald Trump won 185,000 votes, up 20,000 from Romney’s sum.

Third party votes more than tripled from 2012 to 2016, from 5,800 to 21,000. Green party candidate Jill Stein and Libertarian Gary Johnson won a combined 4.75% of votes from Delawareans, sharply up from 1.4% in 2012.  This reflects the nationwide phenomenon that is due in part to the large unpopularity of the two major party candidates, Clinton and Trump.

 Overall, the local results parallel the deep divide between the two major parties in America. The political map of Delaware is split between blue and red. New Castle County, the most populous of the three counties, is reliably blue because of turnout in the cities. However, Republicans consistently win more races in Kent County and nearly every race in Sussex County.

Despite the contentious and partisan atmosphere surrounding politics, Delaware stands as a haven for ideological centrists. In fact, according to a 2015 Gallup poll, 43.7% of Delaware voters identify as moderate, a higher percentage than any other state in the country.

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