Posted: Jan. 22, 2016


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

Figuring out the campaign finances in Delaware's legislative races can kind of deteriorate into a political game of "Hide & Go Seek."

The challengers get to hide their money for a long time if they want, and they almost always do. The sitting legislators get to go seek contributions galore, almost effortlessly.

It is a frustrating way to run a democracy, but never mind. "Hide & Go Seek" is already playing out, true to form, as an early round of campaign finance reports makes all too clear.

The 2016 election is looking very much like a big part of it will involve fierce district-to-district combat for control of the state Senate, where the Democrats outnumber the Republicans by 12-9, and the Republicans can do the math.

"Two seats. Two seats. That is what separates us from responsible, principled government," said Anthony Delcollo, a Republican candidate who announced last Saturday against Patti Blevins, the Democratic president pro tem.

It might look like the Republicans are in striking distance of taking over, but there is more to it. History and voter registration are against them.

The Democrats have been in charge of the state Senate for more than 40 years, since 1973, making the Republicans look about as helpless to ascend as Prince Charles is.

Maybe even more helpless. It is just piling on to know that only two of the 21 state senatorial districts have more Republican than Democratic voters in them, even if the party registration does count for less in the more conservative reaches of lower Delaware, where the Republicans prevail.

Enter the campaign finance reports and the way they get weaponized. It is like they were designed to play mind games with challengers and sitting senators alike.

The reason is the challengers get to see what they are up against, and the sitting state senators mostly do not get to see what they are up against.

The first round of reports, which arrived earlier this week in the election commissioner's office, cover financial activity for 2015.

They show Legislative Hall awash in campaign contributions for any legislator who wants to go seek them -- tens of thousands of dollars flowing from businesses, unions, insurance interests, teachers, bankers, builders, beer distributors, police, doctors, lawyers, lobbyists, fellow politicians, and on and on and on they go.

The flip side is that anyone who was not officially a candidate in 2015 did not have to turn in a campaign finance report, and so cagey challengers waited until afterwards. Under state law, their first reports are not due until August, if they are running in a primary, and October, if they are not.

No kidding, challengers can hide their finances until October for a 10-month guessing game.

This is the way it is in all but one of the four state senatorial districts where challengers have filed.

Harris McDowell, a Democratic state senator, goes into the election year with nearly $25,000 in his campaign treasury. James Spadola, the Republican candidate? Check back in October.

Cathy Cloutier, a Republican state senator, has $53,000 put away for her campaign. As for Denise Bowers, the Democratic opponent, do not bother to ask.

Bruce Ennis, a Democratic state senator, has almost $18,000 ready to spend. From Carl Pace, the Republican candidate, mum is the word.

Only in the race between Blevins and Delcollo are there campaign finance reports from both sides, and it is not even close. As the top state senator, Blevins socked away $72,000, while Delcollo tapped family, friends and a handful of small businesses, along with a loan from himself, to bank $5,000 or so.

Maybe he should have held off like the rest of the challengers.

# # #

Another election, another office are in the works for Jeff Cragg, who ran for governor for the Republicans in 2012.

This time Cragg is going for insurance commissioner, making him the fifth candidate in the field and creating primaries for both parties.

The Democratic candidates are Karen Weldin Stewart, the current officeholder, as well as Trini Navarro, the New Castle County sheriff, and Paul Gallagher, a repeat from the primary in 2012. The Republicans are Cragg and George Parish, formerly the Sussex County clerk of the peace.

As a businessman with experience in insurance, Cragg says the office suits him. So does running for office, as he learned in his last campaign.

"I enjoyed it tremendously. It was a great honor. I have caught the bug," Cragg said.

He must have. He managed only 29 percent of the vote against Jack Markell, who won his second term as the Democratic governor, and here he is, back again.