Posted: Jan. 20, 2012
THE GREAT WALL OF SUSSEX
By Celia Cohen
The Delaware Republicans have their sights set on toppling the Democratic majority in the state Senate in the next election or so, but the odds are it will not happen in 2012.
The way to the majority is not a secret. It goes right through Sussex County, the most conservative part of the state.
The Republicans are blocked there by a great wall of George Bunting and Bob Venables, a pair of Democratic senators, holdovers from the day when the Democratic Party had a southern, conservative aspect to it and Sussex voted Democratic.
Sussex County took its own sweet time to go Republican. It is not called "slower lower Delaware" for nothing.
Sussex voters have been sending Bunting and Venables to the General Assembly in Dover since the 1980s. Bunting will be 67 on Election Day, and Venables will be 79. It does not take a Ouija board to know the Republicans would love to see them bow out, but it could be a while.
Both of them are up for election this year, Bunting for a typical four-year term and Venables for a two-year term as the Senate gets back on a staggered election schedule following redistricting.
Venables wants to run again. "My intention is to go for another two years, if my health holds out the way I'd like it to," he said.
Bunting says he has not decided. It would not be a surprise, however, if he runs again, too.
The Democrats will take it one election at a time. "I'm confident in 2012 we'll hold the Senate by a good margin," said John Daniello, the Democratic state chair.
The chamber currently has 14 Democrats and seven Republicans, so the Republicans need to flip four seats to get to the majority some day. They have plenty of projects to work on this time around.
One is re-electing Liane Sorenson, the minority whip, in what is expected to be a monumental race with Dave Sokola, a Democratic senator, after redistricting combined them in a single Hockessin-Newark district that looks more like her old district that his.
Another is getting Greg Lavelle, the House Republican minority leader who was redistricted out of his own seat, to the Senate by ousting Mike Katz, a Democratic senator, in a Greenville-Brandywine Hundred district where the registration favors the Republicans.
Other projects are winning a new Sussex County seat, which is currently complicated by a Republican primary, and also defending Dori Connor, a Republican senator whose district was vastly reconfigured by redistricting and has a lot more Democratic voters than Republicans in it. Like 10,000 more.
Then the Republicans wait on Bunting and Venables.
"It's probably a better chance [at the majority] in a two-step to '14," said Lavelle, who is not only an aspiring senator but the state party's vice chair.
"Can a good candidate and a respectful candidate take out Senator Venables or Senator Bunting in 2012 in a tide election? That's what we need, but beating one of those fine candidates is not an easy path."
The Republicans certainly have strong candidates to try for it, like Gerald Hocker, the House minority whip, who lives in Bunting's district and Danny Short, another state representative, who lives in Venables' district.
Except that it really is not done. This is a small state. Politicians generally prefer to take turns.
The Senate itself makes the case. It has seven ex-representatives in it, all of them moving up only after a sitting senator retired or died. The one who came closest to taking on an incumbent was Bethany Hall-Long, a Democrat whose decision to run elbowed Steve Amick, a Republican senator, into retirement in 2008.
Lavelle is trying it now, but redistricting made him do it.
The Republicans have not controlled the Senate in 40 years. They could get there, but a majority in 2012 looks like a Sussex seat or so too far.