Posted: Aug. 8, 2012
THE OLD SWITCHEROO
By Celia Cohen
Not since the invention of the revolving door has there been a change of direction like the one in a Sussex County legislative race.
Beth McGinn, a candidate for state representative, went into the election with one party but came out with the other. She filed as a Republican. Next she un-filed. Then she filed as a Democrat.
It was all legal, and the Delaware Democrats are happy to have her. Finding candidates in Sussex County, the most conservative part of the state, is not exactly a snap for them. Four out of the 14 legislative races there are giveaways to the Republicans with the Democrats failing to field anyone.
McGinn's candidacy even merited a press release from the party. "I could not be more proud to have Beth McGinn on this year's Democratic ticket," John Daniello, the state chair, said in a statement.
This in-and-out politicking is happening in the 37th Representative District, where McGinn is running against Ruth Briggs King, a Republican who has only been a Republican. King went to the House of Representatives in a special election in 2009.
King has had quite the metamorphosis this campaign season. She went from having a Republican primary opponent to a free ride to a Democratic opponent, all because of McGinn.
King, the executive director of the Sussex County Association of Realtors, is a seasoned candidate, winning the special election with 54 percent of the vote and re-election in 2010 with 62 percent, but she is dealing with a new twist for the 2012 election, and not just McGinn.
The district has been vastly reconfigured by redistricting. It stretches from Georgetown, the county seat, east to new territory in Long Neck, where there is a vocal constituency living in manufactured housing. The voter registration modestly favors the Democrats.
There was a broad suspicion when the district was recast by the House's majority Democrats that they meant to stir up trouble for King, who lives near Georgetown, and although Pete Schwartzkopf, the Democratic majority leader, is all innocence, it certainly worked out that way. McGinn is from Long Neck.
King is taking it in stride. "Absolutely, it was drawn for me, but I've basically campaigned every year for the past four years. The issues in Sussex County are pretty much the same," she said.
How King and McGinn became opponents is kind of complicated.
McGinn was not in politics. She moved to Long Neck after retiring from Sunoco in Philadelphia, did her civic duty by registering to vote in 2002 as a Democrat, joined the American Legion Auxiliary and also got involved in the manufactured housing association.
As part of a project to help homeless veterans, she worked with Eric Bodenweiser, who also happens to be a Republican running in a primary against Joe Booth, the senator from Georgetown. Bodenweiser asked her to consider switching parties so she could give him a vote, and she did. That was in December, according to voter registration records.
Then along came legislation designed to limit rent increases in manufactured housing communities to the consumer price index, unless owners get approval for a bigger hike from the Governor's Advisory Council on Manufactured Housing.
The bill was passed by the Senate, where Booth voted against it. Then it was defeated in the House, where King declared a conflict and did not vote on it. McGinn heard politics calling.
"I always knew our senator is not in favor of the homeowners, now our representative, too. We don't send people to not vote," McGinn said.
King explained she abstained because of a potential financial conflict arising from her uncles' ownership of manufactured housing communities. Besides, she thought the bill was flawed, anyway, because it meant business owners could have to open their books to a government panel, and not only that, but what happens if the advisory council lacks a quorum to act?
McGinn approached Schwartzkopf, the Democratic majority leader from nearby Rehoboth Beach, and said she wanted to run against King. By this time, though, the state was in a registration blackout, preventing voters from changing parties before the primary on Sept. 11.
McGinn could not switch back to the Democrats, but never mind. She decided to run as a Republican and force a primary. "I just can't let this go," she said.
McGinn filed on July 10, the deadline for candidates to get on the ballot. The Democrats were unable to recruit anyone, so it looked like King and McGinn would clash in the Republican primary, and that would be that.
Then came the twist. McGinn backed out and withdrew her candidacy on July 13. It looked like King would run unopposed, but McGinn and the Democrats had something else in mind.
Politics is nothing if not riddled with loopholes. Because nobody voluntarily filed for the Democrats, they were allowed to fill the spot with someone, regardless of registration, as long as the candidate and the party signed affidavits certifying they wanted each other.
"It's not anything new, but we don't often get it," said Elaine Manlove, the election commissioner.
McGinn went back on the ballot on July 27 as a Democrat. The election was on.
"She never should have been a Republican. She was a Democrat all along," said Daniello, the Democrats' state chair.
The Democrats do not think of what happened as poaching a candidate, but bringing one home. By the way, if Bodenweiser loses to Booth in that Senate Republican primary by one vote, it will be clear whose vote it is.