Posted: June 21, 2016


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

Politics is about partisanship, especially Democrats against Republicans, but the Delaware Republicans are trying to change the subject.

It is part of their grand strategy to take over the state Senate, where not changing the subject away from partisanship has left the Democrats in charge for 43 years, currently by outnumbering the Republicans by 12-9.

Ever since the Democrats swiped control when two Republican state senators treacherously switched allegiance in 1973, the voters have kept voting Democratic, particularly in New Castle County, where most of the districts are but only two of them have Republican state senators.

"Republicans need to start winning in New Castle County," Mike Ramone said.

Ramone is a Republican state representative, but he was giving as assist Monday evening to three Republican candidates for state senator by hosting a fund-raiser, attended by about 50 people at his home near Newark. (The Republicans are essentially leaving the state House of Representatives, where the Democrats are also in charge, for another day.)

The grand strategy was very much in evidence.

Partisan politics was out. "We've got 12 Democratic senators. There's nothing wrong with them. They're not demons, they're not evil, they just don't always agree with me, so that's a problem," Ramone said to laughter.

Generational politics was in. "We need some new blood," Ramone said.

This is the crux of the Republican strategy. The three Republican candidates are Millennials from the generation born between 1981 and 2000. The Democratic state senators they are challenging have been in office at least since Hillary Clinton was the first lady. Of Arkansas.

Meredith Chapman, a social media director at the University of Delaware, is running against Dave Sokola, a Democratic state senator since 1990. Anthony Delcollo, a lawyer, is challenging Patti Blevins, the Democratic president pro tem elected in 1990. James Spadola, a police officer, is taking on Harris McDowell, a Democratic state senator for a record-setting 40 years.

"Our three candidates are running against three senators, all fine people, but with a total of just those three of 92 years of service" -- for an average of more than 30 years each -- "and our average is 31 in years they've been on earth," quipped Ramone.

The Republicans really do need to make these races about generational politics, because the partisan politics is stacked against them.

In McDowell's district, which stretches from Wilmington northward to Claymont, the ratio of Democratic to Republican voters is nearly 3-1. In Blevins' district, which radiates out from Elsmere, it is 2-1. Only in Sokola's district, which runs from Newark to Hockessin, is the registration manageable at 40 percent Democratic and 32 percent Republican.

Partisan politics is not the only subject the Republicans are trying to change. They would also prefer for the voters to pay no attention to their national party.

"We're not a bunch of angry, screaming Republicans. We're not the party of no," Ramone said.

Easy for him to say. Ramone has a reputation as the most moderate Republican in Dover. It has kept him there from a Democratic district for eight years.

Spadola was the guy who really seemed to get the grand strategy.

"We have some national headwinds where we have people who preach against those values of true individual rights and personal liberty. For us to grow as a party, to win these tough districts, we have to have a big tent," Spadola said.

"Gay rights, they're individual rights. I think it's something that we as a party, we have a bad stereotype when it comes to that. People I'm involved with, the younger candidates, it's a new day when it comes to looking at true individual freedom," he said.

It was the best applause line for any of the candidates, and Spadola followed it up with a pivot to generational politics by describing the reaction as he campaigned in Wilmington, where Gerald Brady happens to be the well-regarded Democratic state representative.

"I have a tough race," Spadola said. "The response I get quite a bit is, are you running against Gerald Brady, because if you are, I'm not voting for you. I'm like, no, I'm running against Mr. McDowell, and he's been there about 38 years too long."

There was one mystery during the evening. Did the Republicans have three candidates for state senator in the room, or were there four?

One of the people there was Eileen O'Shaughnessy-Coleman, who was the Republican candidate in a special election last year for state representative in a district on the outskirts of Newark.

The registration was hopelessly Democratic, and she lost to David Bentz, now the Democratic state representative, but not without putting up a good fight.

It has the Republicans wondering, could O'Shaughnessy-Coleman return as their candidate to replace Karen Peterson, a Democratic state senator who surprised nearly everyone when she told her colleagues last week she would not run for re-election?

If O'Shaughnessy-Coleman were to get into the race, it means the Republicans could find themselves trying to change the subject all over again. She is a Baby Boomer, like Blevins and Sokola are. She lost to a Millennial.

Sweetheart, get the Republicans rewrite.