Posted: May 12, 2016


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

The political gods were amusing themselves, as usual, when they plunked down the rally for Donald Trump at the Delaware State Fairgrounds at Harrington.

It was the political gods' little whimsical way of sticking it to the Democrats, who pretty much get what they want in this state.

Harrington is part of the 30th Representative District in Kent County, and the voter registration there has flipped since the last election in 2014. It now has slightly more Republican than Democratic voters, while it used to be the other way around.

The political gods giveth Joe Biden, but they taketh away Harrington.

Donald Trump and Harrington were the right person in the right place at the right time. Trump is the king of the comb-over and the Republican Party takeover, and Harrington is caught up in a Republican registration changeover.

A registration changeover. Not a political makeover.

It is nothing new that lower Delaware generally likes its politics conservative. It used to be able to identify with Southern Democratic conservatives, but they are gone with the wind.

Where there were once voters who used to be fine thinking of themselves as conservative Democrats, there are now voters who think of themselves as conservative Republicans and scoff at "conservative Democrats" as an oxymoron, or possibly just moronic.

It has just taken time for the registration to catch up with the politics.

"These are continuations of trends that have been underway for a number of years and are now being confirmed with the normal replacement of voting generations," said Joe Pika, a professor emeritus of political science at the University of Delaware.

The legislative district that takes in Harrington was the early flipper, but it is not alone.

Sussex County shifted Republican in the lead-up to the presidential primary here on April 26 -- it now has about 700 more Republican than Democratic voters -- and Sussex also cast the most votes for Trump, even though the bulk of the state's Republican voters live upstate in New Castle County, where about 60 percent of the population is.

Trump carried Delaware with 61 percent of the vote, but he won Sussex County with 71 percent. 

The lineup of legislative districts has also been slightly reordered, emphasis on slightly.

The state House of Representatives, where there are 41 districts, has gone from three districts with more Republican than Democratic voters in 2014 to five districts today.

The old ones are the 12th (Greenville), where Debbie Hudson is the Republican state representative, the 22nd (Hockessin-Pike Creek Valley), where Joe Miro is the Republican state representative, and the 38th (Bethany Beach-Selbyville), where Ron Gray is the Republican state representative.

The new ones are the 30th (Harrington), where Bobby Outten is the Republican state representative, and the 40th (Laurel-Delmar), where Tim Dukes is the Republican state representative.

The state Senate, where there are 21 districts, has gone from two districts with more Republican than Democratic voters in 2014 to three districts today.

The old ones are the 4th (Greenville-Hockessin), where Greg Lavelle is the Republican state senator, and the 20th (Millsboro-Bethany Beach), where Gerald Hocker is the Republican state senator, and the new one is the 19th (Bridgeville-Georgetown-Long Neck), where Brian Pettyjohn is the Republican state senator.

Not that the new registration does much more than reflect reality.

This is the case in the Harrington area. It already has Bobby Outten as a Republican state representative and Gary Simpson as a Republican state senator. It voted for Christine "I'm Not a Witch" O'Donnell. It did go Democratic for governor for Jack Markell, though. There are limits.

There is every reason to think other legislative districts in lower Kent County and Sussex County could flip, but it changes little about state politics, because the districts located below Dover are reliably Republican already.

Delaware overall is still solidly Democratic, its voting patterns driven largely by New Castle County, the populous bigfoot where 52 percent of the voters are registered Democrats.

It is the reason the governor, the federal delegation and the General Assembly are Democratic, as well as the reason the Democratic presidential nominee does not need to be named Joe Biden to be all but certain to carry Delaware.

Even with the switching that is going on downstate, the Democrats are widening the registration gap they hold over the Republicans. In 2014, the Democrats out-registered the Republicans statewide by 125,000 voters, and now it is more than 127,000 voters.

For the Republicans, it is like being Bernie Sanders. No matter how many states he keeps adding to his win column, he cannot catch up to Hillary Clinton in the delegate math for the Democratic presidential nomination.

The Republicans here can pick up some more legislative districts, but they cannot trump -- or is it Trump? -- the Democrats in the voter math statewide. Bit by bit, month by month, the Republicans are still falling further behind.