Posted: Oct. 1, 2015
THE ERA OF BIPARTISAN POLITICS IS OVER
By Celia Cohen
The myth persists that Delaware could be a model for D.C. Forget about it.
Instead, the ways of Washington won here. As the country's politics turned more and more partisan, so have the state's.
Voting a straight ticket has emerged as the rule of the land and the practice at home.
It seems somehow un-Delawarean, after years and years of consensus politics, but in the Internet age, the borders are gone, and so the partisanship is here, there and everywhere.
It prevails around the country in voters' choices from the White House to the statehouse, as Alan Abramowitz and Steven Webster, a pair of political science professors at Emory University, observed in a presentation in April for the Midwest Political Science Association.
"To a greater extent than at any time in the post-World War II era, the outcomes of the elections below the presidential level reflect the outcomes of presidential elections," the political scientists wrote.
"The famous comment by the late Tip O'Neill that 'all politics is local' now seems rather quaint. In the 21st Century United States, it increasingly appears that all politics is national."
Delaware used to be different. The voters were famous for hop-scotching their way down the ballot during the last decades of the 20th Century.
They companionably sent Joe Biden and Bill Roth, one Democrat and one Republican, to the U.S. Senate together for nearly 30 years. They kept control of the General Assembly divided between the Democrats in the state Senate and the Republicans in the state House of Representatives for just about a quarter-century.
Bipartisan politics looked like it had reached something close to enshrinement in 1992, when the voters went along as willing co-conspirators to a job swap that made Mike Castle the Republican congressman and Tom Carper the Democratic governor.
All it takes is a look at what has happened to the state House of Representatives to know the days of bipartisanship are no more.
As the century turned, it became apparent that Delaware was shedding its identity as a swing state and morphing into a Democratic blue state. The most dramatic evidence was the U.S. Senate election in 2000, when the voters ousted Roth and replaced him with Carper.
The partisan transformation trickled down the ballot. Once it was no big deal for people to vote for different parties for president and state representative. Among the 41 state House districts, the number splitting the vote for president and state representative dropped from 17 districts in 2000 to three districts in 2012.
Geography became destiny. The representative districts upstate in New Castle County, where the bulk of the population is, went almost entirely Democratic. The districts downstate in Sussex County went almost all Republican. The districts in between in Kent County split.
It was the state House Republicans who paid the price for the change. The upstate moderates who kept the Republicans in the majority steadily disappeared, many of them either losing at the polls if they showed any vulnerabilities or scared into retiring after a close call.
The state House went Democratic in 2008 as Barack Obama carried Delaware with a considerable assist from Joe Biden. It could stay that way for a long, long time.
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TRACKING THE REPRESENTATIVE DISTRICTS:
Democrats in blue and Republicans in red
*District moved because of redistricting in 2002
**District moved because of redistricting in 2012
***Atkins ran as a Republican until 2006 and a Democrat afterwards