Posted: Aug. 30, 2016
THE ELECTION SEASON THAT NEVER WAS
By Celia Cohen
The candidate field for governor, lieutenant governor and congressperson is not so good for the triskaidekaphobia set.
The "fear of 13" crowd was in for a jittery election year here in Delaware, anyway, with Primary Day landing on that scary-number date in September, but then it got worse.
The open races for the three offices at the top of the ballot have been overrun with 13 people who are making their maiden flight statewide.
Thirteen newbies and wanna-bes. To be the governor. To be someone next in line to be the governor. To be the only chance Delaware gets when it positively, absolutely has to be heard in the U.S. House of Representatives.
It is enough to spook not just the superstitious, but maybe the whole state.
Not that these gangs and gangs of candidates -- Lafferty, Eaby, Fuller, Gunn, Hall-Long, McGuiness, Poppiti, Dorsey Walker, Reigle, Rochester, Townsend, Walker and Weir -- are the only ones running, whoever some of them are, so the jinx might not be quite as bad as it could be.
At least not for governor. John Carney is out there, bringing a respectable background as the Democratic congressman and past lieutenant governor.
It might be worth mentioning there are a couple of candidates who did run statewide before, namely, Colin Bonini, one of the Republicans for governor, and Sean Barney, one of the Democrats for the congressional seat, both of whom lost for treasurer. Oh, and Mike Miller, but he is a serial candidate, running and running and running as a Democrat for congressman, so never mind.
This jumble of un-culled candidates is not what Delaware is used to, especially for congressperson.
It has been 40 years since the voters last let the congressional office go to someone who had not previously run and won statewide. Before Carney. Before Mike Castle. Before Tom Carper. (It went to Tom Evans in 1976.)
It is not supposed to be this way, and if state politics feels out of kilter, there is a reason for it.
If Beau had lived, it is a cinch he would be the Democratic candidate for governor and Carney would be running for a fourth congressional term, so the only open race statewide would be lieutenant governor, which is nothing new, because it is mostly a proving ground for higher office, anyway.
Even without Beau, the muddle of candidates might have been avoided.
Jack Markell, finishing out his time as the Democratic governor, could have big-footed the congressional field if he wanted, figuring to swap jobs with Carney, the way Castle and Carper did in 1992, when Castle morphed from the Republican governor to congressman and Carper from the Democratic congressman to governor.
Instead, Markell did what Pete du Pont did. As du Pont was leaving the governor's office in 1984, Republicans from Ronald Reagan on down were pressing him to try to take out Joe Biden, who was running for a third term as the Democratic senator, but du Pont was having none of it.
"You should never get to the point in life that you run for office because it is there, or because it's the traditional thing to do," du Pont said at the time.
The upshot is the 2016 election turned into open season. Anyone could file and so they did.
If Beau Biden or Markell had been at the top of the ballot, instead, maybe everyone else would have moved down a notch. That would have worked.
It could have meant a lot of the current congressional field might have looked at lieutenant governor, leading to a Democratic primary, say, with Sean Barney, Lisa Blunt Rochester and Bryan Townsend, possibly joined by Bethany Hall-Long, who is running for lieutenant governor now.
That is a realistic field. All of them have decent experience in state government -- Barney as a policy aide to the governor, Rochester as a Cabinet secretary, and Townsend and Hall-Long as state senators -- just the sort of people who could be credibly expected to be up for lieutenant governor.
Then the rest of the crop for lieutenant governor -- Brad Eaby, Greg Fuller, Kathy McGuiness, Ciro Poppiti and Sherry Dorsey Walker for the Democrats and La Mar Gunn for the Republicans -- could have turned into what they look like they are, anyway.
Legislative candidates. All of them have previous political experience running for county or municipal office. Dover could be their kind of place.
It is the election season that could have been but never was.
Instead, it is what it is. So many candidates. So many of them over their heads.
Who knows, maybe there is another Bill Roth or Joe Biden among them -- Roth, who was a failed candidate for lieutenant governor before he got to Washington and became part of Americana with the Roth IRA, and Biden, who was nothing but a county councilman when he decided on a race for the U.S. Senate as his introduction to statewide politics.
Otherwise, the entire state might come down with triskaidekaphobia.