Posted: Sept. 3, 2010


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

Two countywide officials, one upstate and one downstate, are fighting for their political survival in Democratic primaries.

Upstate it is Mike Walsh, the New Castle County sheriff for 30 years. Downstate it is John Brady, the Sussex County recorder of deeds who has held one county row office or another for 10 years.

Their peril is a surprise. Primaries in Delaware are just not places that turn into the end of the line for local officials, especially not people like Walsh and Brady, both of whom are such familiar figures in political circles.

Walsh has his jokes and his golf shirts and his community roots that had him going to the same Wilmington parochial school as his mother. Brady is a portly country lawyer who looks as if he could have been at home riding the legal circuit in 19th Century America with Abraham Lincoln.

The races are not exactly as riveting as Markell-Carney in 2008, but they bring a certain level of drama to Primary Day, now less than two weeks away on Sept. 14.

As Erik Schramm, the New Castle County Democratic chair, said about the sheriff's contest, "It will be decided at eight o'clock that night when the polls close. It's definitely too close to call."

It is not unheard-of for primaries to be the downfall of incumbents, but it usually happens in situations where one party is overwhelmingly dominant.

Wilmington is the obvious example. The city electorate is about two-thirds Democratic, too big to be assailed. It is no surprise at all that Jim Baker got to be the mayor through a Democratic primary by ousting Jim Sills, who got to be the mayor through a Democratic primary by ousting Dan Frawley.

Walsh is being challenged for sheriff by Trinidad Navarro, the public information officer for the New Castle County police.

The intensity of their primary could be a new sign that the county is trending the way of the city into one-party rule. Democrats now account for 50 percent of the county's voter registration. The county executive is a Democrat, the council president is a Democrat, and so are the four row officers.

In two of the last three elections for county executive, the Republicans did not even field a candidate. The Republicans are having a primary for sheriff, but it is unlikely to matter.

Brady's primary opponent is Alma Roach, who frequents the Recorder of Deeds Office and its property records as a title searcher for a Georgetown law firm.

It is not hard to figure out the reason why Brady could be vulnerable in a Democratic primary. He was a Republican until he switched parties after the last election.

By contrast, Roach married into a longstanding Sussex Democratic family and dates her own political involvement to her membership with the Young Democrats in 1978.

Brady has fallen on hard times. He lost a 2008 race for state insurance commissioner, an emotional defeat that prompted him to abandon the Republican Party. His law firm dissolved. He had heart surgery. He declared bankruptcy.

There has not been much to Brady's candidacy. His last campaign finance report showed he collected $100 and spent $75.

Brady recently filed as a "fusion" candidate with a minor party to keep himself on the ballot for the general election, regardless of the outcome of the primary. Republican Scott Dailey also is running for the office.

Primaries are notoriously tricky to predict, because the turnout is so low. In the last two mid-term elections, the Democrats got out 7 percent of their vote in 2006 and 8 percent in 2002.

The New Castle County sheriff's race has an additional wrinkle. Split endorsements.

Walsh was endorsed easily by the Wilmington Democrats, the home base for Loretta Walsh, a city councilwoman who is the chief deputy sheriff and his former sister-in-law. Navarro won a close vote for the New Castle County Democrats' endorsement.

Anything goes, particularly because the power of the city to complicate an election should never be underestimated. Its concentration of Democratic voters inevitably makes it a battleground, not to mention the urban politics are always alive with shifting loyalties, side deals and conspiracies.

As Loretta Walsh put it, "As in every election, if you want to have stories to tell your grandchildren, you should work on Election Day in the city."