Posted: Oct. 2, 2014


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

The state Senate can be expected to tiptoe into Dover next Wednesday on little cat's feet, hoping hardly anybody notices.

If hardly anybody does, it can leave with a Cheshire Cat's grin.

The senators are returning to Legislative Hall for a one-day special session to deal with some nominations, most notably for Jim Vaughn Jr. for confirmation as a Supreme Court justice.

The timing is enough to send shivers up a political spine. It is a month before the election, and the last thing somebody about to appear on a ballot wants to do is anything that could rile the voters, particularly in a state like Delaware, which rarely chucks out incumbents without cause.

So the Senate has good reason to want a quiet session. Get in and get out.

Besides, there is little chance, anyway, the Senate would want to sink Vaughn, who is practically family. His father was Jim Vaughn Sr., a formidable presence who served as a Democratic senator from Kent County from 1980 until he gave up his seat two weeks before his death in 2007.

There is an oddity that has the Senate particularly attuned to the voters this year. Every single senator up for election -- 10 in the 21-member chamber -- drew an opponent, some serious, some token, but at least someone.

This is highly unusual. The Senate can be like the Delaware version of the House of Lords.

Three or four or even five senators often run unopposed. Not that long ago, the Senate went five years without having to update its roll call, because the membership never changed, and it would have gone at least another year, if Vaughn Sr. had not died.

Not this election. Of course, it helps that Dave McBride, the Democratic majority leader, is not up. It will be 30 years since he last had a Republican opponent, if he runs again when his current four-year term ends in 2016.

Thirty years! McBride does not have a district as much as a pocket borough. He runs in the 13th Senatorial, a narrow stretch neatly fashioned for him along U.S. 13 in New Castle County from Wilmington Manor to Bear, with an overwhelmingly Democratic registration that has protected him from Republican opposition since 1986.

The 13th Senatorial District. Where democracy goes to die.

Despite a full slate of challengers in 2014, there are still two senators who are shoo-ins and one who nearly is.

Bob Marshall and Bryan Townsend, both Democratic senators, dispatched their only opponents in primaries, although Marshall just barely by 37 votes. Colin Bonini, a Republican senator, is essentially home-free against a minor-party candidate he defeated the last time with 80 percent of the vote.

Not one senator retired, not even Bob Venables, a Sussex County Democrat who is 81 and appears to have the only serious race, a repeat of a matchup he won against Bryant Richardson, the Republican candidate, with 56 percent of the vote.

It means the only one actively trying to get out of the Senate is its president. Matt Denn, the lieutenant governor with the gavel, is the Democratic candidate for attorney general.

This situation should change in 2016. One election never ends before the next one begins, and there are already said to be senators with aspirations. Bethany Hall-Long for Democratic lieutenant governor? Bonini for governor? Maybe Greg Lavelle, the Republican minority whip, as well?

For now, though, the membership of the next Senate could be a clone of this Senate, with the voters looking like they will do what they usually do and go along quietly.

Never mind. It is still safe to bank on a nice little special session, because elections do tend to make senators jittery. Not enough to strike fear in their hearts, although there is actually a way to do that.

Two words. Term limits.