Posted: Aug. 2, 2016
IT TAKES A PRESIDENT
By Celia Cohen
Hopscotch was once the favorite game of Delaware voters.
Land on a Democratic square for president here (Bill Clinton), go to a Republican square for congressman there (Mike Castle), come back to a Democratic square for governor over here (Tom Carper) and stick around for a Democratic lieutenant governor (Ruth Ann Minner.)
Oh, there would be the occasional party blowout, like the one the Republicans pulled off -- Ronald Reagan for president! Pete du Pont for governor! Mike Castle for lieutenant governor! Tom Evans for congressman! -- but not usually.
Then along came the Internet invasion and the cable broadcasting cabals. Delawareans were getting influenced the same way people everywhere else were, and it was like the state borders melted away and the voters got swept up in the fiery rise of partisan voting.
No more Joe Biden and Bill Roth, one Democratic blue senator and one Republican red senator. Now it is Tom Carper and Chris Coons, two blue.
As recently as 2000, the state was still happily hopscotching down the ballot, voting one way for president and another way for state representative in more than 40 percent of the districts -- 17 out of 41 of them.
So much for that. By the last presidential election in 2012, the voters were essentially going straight down the ballot. The state was left with only three districts that voted differently for president and state representative, and one district should not count.
Mike Ramone and Joe Miro, a pair of Republican state representatives in side-by-side Pike Creek Valley/Hockessin seats, genuinely survived their districts' Democratic presidential vote for Barack Obama (and maybe more to the point, Biden.)
John Atkins was re-elected as a Democratic state representative from Millsboro, while Mitt Romney was carrying the presidential vote for the Republicans, but Atkins was originally elected as a Republican before he changed parties as part of a comeback from scandal. Besides, the voters chucked him out two years later in 2014 to elect a Republican in Republican clothing.
All of which leads up to 2016. There is not much reason to think the voters will be inclined to switch out a Democratic legislator for a Republican, or vice versa, because they mostly have someone in there already from the party of their district's choice, just about all Democrats above Dover and nearly all Republicans below.
It puts in perspective what the Republicans are trying to accomplish this year. They want to take over the state Senate, where they have been the minority caucus for a long-suffering 43 years. (They are all but leaving the state House of Representatives, which they lost in 2008, for another day.)
The Republicans need to flip two seats in the 21-member state Senate, where the Democrats outnumber them by 12-9. The Republicans have targeted four Democratic state senators, namely, Patti Blevins, the president pro tem, along with Harris McDowell, Dave Sokola and Bruce Ennis.
They have: Anthony Delcollo, a lawyer, against Blevins; James Spadola, a police officer, against McDowell; Meredith Chapman, a social media manager for the University of Delaware, against Sokola; and Carl Pace, a businessman who trades in guns, gold and t-shirts, against Ennis.
The Republicans are banking on the disruptive energy of Donald Trump and the enticement of generational change, running Millennials against state senators who are Baby Boomers (Blevins and Sokola) or even older members of the Silent Generation (McDowell and Ennis.)
"I think this is a different year, and these are different candidates than we've ever had," said John Fluharty, a Republican strategist.
Except the Republicans are trying to make their move in New Castle County, even if Ennis' district does dip over the line, with about 30 percent of its voters in Kent County, and there is no place more Democratic in Delaware than New Castle County.
Blevins-and-company already match up with the presidential voting patterns of their districts, as an analysis of the 2012 election returns show.
These are numbers not seen before, because the Election Department tracks the vote by the state House districts, and the only way to compile the results for the state Senate districts is to calculate them election district by election district, which are the internal building blocks shared by both.
Not only are the four Democratic state senators politically aligned with their districts, but there are indications the voters are running true to form, ready to go Democratic for Hillary Clinton upstate, where most of the population lives, but Republican for Trump downstate, where the state's more conservative reaches are.
This is shown by the PublicMind Poll, which Fairleigh Dickinson University of New Jersey conducted among registered voters in Delaware from July 20-24, as the Republican convention in Cleveland wound down but the Democratic convention in Philadelphia was still to come.
In other words, the Republicans are trying to make their way to the state Senate majority through a county where Clinton looks like a 2-1 favorite in an era of straight-ticket voting.
"If you look at the numbers and the turnout in a presidential year, I don't view those four seats as competitive for the Republicans. Obviously we'll take nothing for granted," said Erik Raser-Schramm, a Democratic strategist.
In this day and age, it takes a president to make a legislative majority.