Posted: July 14, 2016


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

John Carney is the only statewide candidate, Democrat or Republican, to get a party endorsement. Like he was the one who needed it.

Party endorsements are an endangered species in Delaware politics these days. Give it a little more time, and they may go the way of the torchlight parade and the Big Lever into extinction.

Endorsing Carney is not even a last hurrah. More like a last peep.

When someone is running unopposed for the Democratic nomination for governor, as Carney is, it is about as meaningful as endorsing the sun to rise in the morning. Not that people do not absolutely want the sun to come up, but really, why bother with an endorsement?

What a distance the parties have come from Tammany Hall. They seen their opportunity for endorsements, and they forsook it.

Both parties backed off. The Republicans made a show of it during their state convention in late April. The Democrats waited until a session of their state executive committee on Wednesday evening, a day after the candidates' filing deadline.

The Republicans tiptoed away. Not so the Democrats. They got stormy. The Democrats did not meet on Bastille Day eve for nothing.

The two parties are awash in candidates for statewide office. Between them, they have 21 candidates for governor, congressperson, lieutenant governor and insurance commissioner.

Endorsing might seem like a way to try to sort out the field, but these days it is more likely to be interpreted as party insiders trying to cram their choice down the voters' collective throat. It means the voters will be on their own when they go to the polls on Primary Day on Sept. 13.

Besides, the parties have been burned. Two names. John Carney and Mike Castle.

Carney had the party endorsement when he lost to Jack Markell in the 2008 Democratic primary for governor, and so did Castle when he was upset by Christine "I'm not a Witch" O'Donnell in the 2010 Republican primary for senator.

The Republicans did not even pretend they were going to endorse for the 2016 election.

Oh, they brought in all the candidates for their convention, and they had the delegates vote, but they made very clear it did not count.

"It is a straw poll by any other name," said Charlie Copeland, the Republican state chair.

The convention gave bragging rights in the primary for governor to Colin Bonini, a state senator, over Lacey Lafferty, a Tea Party type candidate. Hans Reigle, running for congressman, and La Mar Gunn, running for lieutenant governor, were unopposed, so that was that, and the delegates took a pass on the primary for insurance commissioner between Jeff Cragg and George Parish.

The Democrats, being Democrats, had their meeting turn messy and contentious before they decided to go with Carney for governor but leave the rest of the candidates to fend for themselves.

Unlike the Republicans, the Democrats do not hold a convention when they are endorsing or non-endorsing. The Democrats leave their statewide endorsements up to their executive committee after input from the local party organizations for the three counties, the city of Wilmington and the state representative districts.

Also unlike the Republicans, who let the press watch, the Democrats did not, but there is no way to put a roomful of Democrats together and not have the word get out.

John Daniello, the Democratic state chair, pushed for endorsements, but he was pushed back.

Daniello is old school. He has been in politics since the days when the parties did even more than endorse statewide candidates, they nominated them.

The parties used to hold conventions to decide on their statewide tickets. During the 1970s, they transitioned to primaries. Initially there was a hybrid system, which allowed candidates who won at least 35 percent of the vote at a convention to move on to a primary. That system gave way to a pure primary where the party's voters have the say.    

"The reason you have a party is to recruit, select and elect. I didn't get off that position last night. That's still the function of the party," Daniello said the morning after the Democrats met.

"There was big talk about why we shouldn't endorse, but they wanted to endorse Carney. There is conflict within those two decisions."

There is also no getting around that none of the candidates running in the Democratic primaries have distinguished themselves enough to have the party flocking to them and fired up to endorse.

There are three congressional candidates -- Sean Barney, Lisa Blunt Rochester and Bryan Townsend -- being taken seriously, but the field for lieutenant governor -- with Brad Eaby, Greg Fuller, Bethany Hall-Long, Kathy McGuiness, Ciro Poppiti III and Sherry Dorsey Walker -- is a muddle, and Karen Weldin Stewart has been the insurance commissioner for two terms without being able to lock an endorsement away from Trini Navarro.

Not only did the Democrats fail to endorse in those races, they argued heatedly if they even should endorse in the era of primaries, and they voted not to.

"The tone of the room was, the process did play out and there was not the will to endorse," said Erik Raser-Schramm, the New Castle County Democratic vice chair who is also the political consultant for Townsend's congressional campaign.

So there it is, the parties are out of it. They are taking no more chances on endorse and remorse.