Posted: April 5, 2012


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

Liane Sorenson is leaving the state Senate and all but assuredly taking the Delaware Republicans' grand design for the majority with her when she goes.

Sorenson, a sensible legislator with a good heart and an every-mom exterior that hides a tiger inside, called a surprise press conference Tuesday to say her 20th year in Dover would be her last, and it instantly became one of those iconic moments in the history of the General Assembly.

The little dwindling band of her fellow New Castle County Republicans in the legislature was drawn to attend the press conference, and they looked as crestfallen as though their day was done and the last embers were dying.

The Republican Party as Delaware knew it was passing before their eyes, the party that once ruled the state, the party that was not doctrinaire but saw itself as fiscal stewards and principled pragmatists within a social-issues collage, the party of Bill Roth, Pete du Pont and Mike Castle.

Yes, Pete du Pont. His left hand may have withered in recent years, but in 1985, in his last month as governor, he wrote, "Seize the center; there is no profit on the fringes." That Republican Party.

Up until the press conference, the Republicans were talking about taking over the Senate, and for the first time in 40 years, the Democrats were not laughing at the talk.

Because of redistricting and retirements, the chamber where the Democrats currently outnumber the Republicans by 14-7 really had a chance of flipping in the next election or so.

Sorenson was the linchpin, though. The Republican strategy for getting to the majority relied on her defeating Dave Sokola, a Democratic senator, for a Hockessin-Newark seat they found themselves sharing after redistricting. Not that it was supposed to be easy. Registration favored him, but it was essentially her old district.

"I was definitely counting on that seat," said Gary Simpson, the Senate's Republican minority leader. "I think it's almost an open seat now. A well-funded, well-versed intelligent person running from our side can win this seat."

The Republicans do have some tantalizing names to consider for the race, like Janet Rzewnicki, a past state treasurer, Mike Ramone, a state representative, and Janet Kilpatrick, a New Castle County councilwoman, but Sokola has the jump and he is a bulldog.

"It makes it more likely that Dave has a less difficult race," said Patti Blevins, the Senate's Democratic majority leader.

The Republicans did not need any more setbacks, not in a state where the Democrats have eight out of nine statewide offices, both legislative chambers and 112,000 more voters than the Republicans, not to mention Joe Biden as the vice president.

The Republicans' regression has come largely in the moderate climes upstate, where most of the people are, as noted by the sad statistic that only eight out of the 62 legislators are New Castle County Republicans.

If the Republicans are to rebuild, they have to be viable with the electorate upstate, but they have become their own worst enemy, stalking and hounding their own moderate officeholders as they move their party ever rightward.

Christine O'Donnell took out Castle. There were rumblings at the party's convention last year about censuring Ramone and Nick Manolakos, the only Republican state representatives to vote for civil unions. Ellen Barrosse, the founder of the pro-life A Rose and A Prayer, is running in an election later this month to try to oust Priscilla Rakestraw, a moderate, as the national committeewoman.

Such atmospherics enshrouded Sorenson's press conference. Not that she said anything about the way the upstate moderates are finding themselves strangers in their own party. She simply said, "It's time."

The undercurrents were there, though.

Debbie Hudson, a state representative who was one of the New Castle County Republican legislators sheltering together at the press conference, said to Sorenson, "As a Republican, your moderate stance was excellent for our party, and you ably represented us in the area around the University [of Delaware], which is liberal."

Dori Connor, surviving as a pro-labor Republican state senator in an overwhelmingly Democratic district in New Castle County, said much the same, noting, "We were the moderate voice, because we represented our districts."

Everything was always going to have to break right for the state Senate to flip, and right off the bat, something broke wrong.

There was no joy in Republicanland. Liane Sorenson has bowed out.