Posted: Nov. 11, 2010


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

Just when the Democrats look like Delaware could not get any better for them, it does.

The Democrats were coming off a dream election in 2008. They had the thrill of watching Joe Biden became the vice president. They exhaled after a perilous primary as they elected a governor, anyway. They grabbed both legislative chambers for the first time in a quarter of a century.

Like there was anywhere to go but down.

The Democrats had so much already. Not to mention the mid-terms were coming, and those elections are notoriously unkind to the party of the president, especially in a punchless economy. Ask the Democrats in the rest of the country how it went.

Incredibly the Democrats improved their standing here. They made the three-member congressional delegation all-Democratic. They squeezed the Republicans out of almost all nine statewide offices, everything but the auditor. They kept the General Assembly, even adding two seats in the House of Representatives.

While all of it was happening, they did something else. They put a new generation in place.

Jack Markell, the governor who started it all as treasurer in 1998. Chris Coons, the senator-elect who drove away the forbidding Gordon-Freebery regime in New Castle County. John Carney, the incoming congressman after a timeout for losing the gubernatorial primary as lieutenant governor. Matt Denn, the lieutenant governor who was the insurance commissioner. Beau Biden, the attorney general who shares the best Democratic name in the state.

The only outlier is Tom Carper, the Democratic senior senator who has been gobbling up offices since 1976 as treasurer, congressman and governor.

The main reason the Democrats became so upwardly mobile? Joe Biden.

A logjam broke when he left the Senate for the vice presidency and ended the triumvirate of Biden-Carper-Castle in Washington. There would not even have been a Senate election in 2010 without Biden's ascension.

It unloosened Mike Castle from the congressional seat and exposed him to Christine O'Donnell's political witchcraft in the Republican senatorial primary. It made way for Coons and Carney, both otherwise blocked from high office.

The Democrats did have some help. There was no reason to think the Republicans might not find a way to benefit from the free flow themselves, until they came up with one. Radioactive candidates at the top of their ticket.

"We're already on the verge of extinction, just by registration. It's very important we have candidates who don't embarrass us," said Colin Bonini, the Republican state senator who lost a down-ballot race for treasurer.

It does not look so good for the Republican Party here. It does not look so good for the two-party system, either, and the sound of one hand clapping, believe it or not, comes from John Daniello, the Democratic state chair.

Daniello is a champion of the two-party system. When it is robust, it provides the means for both parties to pull away from their fringes and create a sturdy platform for governing.

"I'm concerned about it. The job of both parties is to compromise with their single-issue groups and get to the middle," Daniello said.

The future of an unbalanced two-party system has all the makings of a free-for-all, leading to political rumbles like the ideological collision between O'Donnell and Castle or the rivalry for governor between Markell and Carney. Nor did it help that the endorsed candidates lost.

"The genie is out of the bottle in terms of mavericks now being willing to challenge the party leadership's endorsement, and it will take a few elections to settle the system down, if it ever does," said Joe Pika, a political science professor at the University of Delaware.

The difference is, the Republicans are devouring themselves through their primaries, while the Democrats are collecting statewide offices with theirs. Not all primaries are created equal.