Posted: Feb. 1, 2016


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

When someone declares for office at a history museum, there has to be a message somewhere.

There was. History was a prime reason Lisa Blunt Rochester went to the Delaware History Museum in Wilmington on Saturday as the place to get her campaign going in the Democratic primary for the open congressional seat.

The election naturally has overtones of history to it, because Delaware has never elected anyone who is not white and male to its three-member federal delegation, and Rochester is neither.

There are also undertones of history. This is a congressional field that ain't what it used to be.

It is an oddly untested collection of six candidates -- four Democrats and two Republicans -- who are officially in the race. Not one of them has previously run and won statewide, a credential that has practically become a prerequisite for the top-tier offices of governor, the two senators and the state's only member in the U.S. House of Representatives.

The congressional seat has gone to John Carney, once the Democratic lieutenant governor, Mike Castle, a Republican governor, and Tom Carper, a Democrat in his politically embryonic state as the treasurer, before he evolved to governor and senator. It takes going back 40 years to Tom Evans, a Republican elected in 1976, to find someone who was not already a statewide officeholder.

Sure, history has recorded Joe Biden, vaulting to Democratic senator in 1972 after a mere two years as a county councilman, and also Pete du Pont, powering to Republican congressman in 1970 after two years as a legislator, but Joe was Joe, a 29-year-old political phenom pulling off an upset for the ages, and Pete du Pont was a du Pont.

Oh, and Chris Coons. Talk about a fluke set of circumstances.

For Coons to get to Democratic senator from county executive in 2010, it took two Bidens getting out the way -- Joe going to vice president and Beau deciding not to run -- so the race could turn into Mike Castle's to lose, which he did, to Christine "I'm Not a Witch" O'Donnell in a primary.

Whatever, Delaware will be going into the 2016 election with the congressional field it has, not the one it might want to have.

This is what happens when there was not supposed to be an open race, because Carney was supposed to be running for re-election, not governor, because Beau Biden was supposed to be running for governor. Beau's 47th birthday would have been Wednesday.

The Democratic candidates are: Rochester, once a Cabinet member for two Democratic governors; Sean Barney, the 2014 candidate for treasurer; Bryon Short, a state representative; and Bryan Townsend, a state senator.

The Republican candidates are Hans Reigle, a past small-town mayor, and Rose Izzo, a serial candidate who has $16 in her campaign account, so 'nuff said about her.

The candidates had an early chance to strut their stuff, not that all of them did, when they filed their 2015 finance reports, which were due by Sunday with the Federal Election Commission.

Candidate Party Balance Contributions Expenditures Loans
Barney D $78,012 $81,149 $3,137  
Rochester D $127,057 $121,552 $23,365 $28,900
Short D $121,015 $152,253 $35,238 $4,000
Townsend D $123,872 $212,676 $88,804  
Izzo R $16 $17 $17 $12,888
Reigle R $36,082 $51,179 $23,542 $8,472

The best showing came from Rochester, Short and Townsend, all of whom managed to bank more than $100,000, although Townsend did it by out-raising the others and Rochester pumped up her account with a personal loan. Rochester's financial prospects could be on the way up, however, since she was just endorsed by EMILY's List, which backs Democratic women who are pro-choice.

The EMILY endorsement is an indication there can be advantages to standing out as the only woman, let alone an African-American woman, in a Democratic primary in a Democratic state, where there are 126,000 more Democratic than Republican voters.

Not surprisingly, Rochester's campaign was trumpeting its history-making message at the Delaware History Museum, where about 200 people turned out.

Not that trying to make history cannot make people nervous. Rochester's best applause lines were her response to some well-meaning cautions she said she received not to run as the black candidate, not to run as the woman candidate.

"The reality is, I am black. I am a woman," Rochester said to laughter.

"But I'm also a child of God, a government worker, a non-profit leader, a hip-hop lover, an animal lover, an advocate, a UD Blue Hen, a Wilmingtonian. I am you. We are Delaware."

Delaware could be ready for a breakout run by a black candidate. The voters already went with Barack Obama over Hillary Clinton in the Democratic presidential primary in 2008 and with Chris Bullock for New Castle County Council president in 2012.

Chip Flowers does not count. True, Flowers was the first black candidate elected statewide when he won a single term as treasurer in 2010, but that was the year the Republican Party imploded after Christine O'Donnell won the primary for the U.S. Senate.

Even a Democrat who had to run while denying accusations he had roughed up two girlfriends could have won that year. Oh wait, Flowers did that.