Posted: Sept. 11, 2012
By Celia Cohen
Jack Markell had a stunningly lackluster showing Tuesday at the polls, even though the governor's name appeared nowhere on the Primary Day ballot.
With a little gubernatorial muscle, Markell tried to assert himself on behalf of some favored fellow Democrats in a selection of races throughout Delaware and largely came out the worse for it.
None stood out as much as the do-or-die slugfest that had Tony DeLuca battling to return to the state Senate, where he ruled as the Democratic president pro tem in such a roughshod manner that it made him a marked man for a primary.
DeLuca went down, losing resoundingly to Bryan Townsend, a lawyer who stepped up to take him on. This was unmistakably one of those races, as it is said in political circles, if you go after the king, you had better kill him. Townsend did.
Townsend is all but on his way to Legislative Hall. The senatorial district south of Newark was expertly crafted in redistricting to send a Democrat to Dover by none other than DeLuca, a gift he meant for himself.
Meanwhile, Markell may have lost this battle but won the war, if it results in a kinder, gentler Senate without DeLuca.
Nobody knows better than Markell what winning a primary can mean for a candidate. It is pretty much the way he got to be the governor. He won a dogfight of a primary four years ago, and it not only propelled him into office but the strength he showed then is part of reason he has had only token opposition, at least so far, from the Republicans now in his re-election campaign.
Even so, Markell is leery of taking sides between Democrats. "It's not something I really do," he said during the lead-up to the primaries.
Markell got in where he believed he had cause, as he did in the case of DeLuca and Valerie Longhurst, both of them members of the Democratic legislative leadership. Longhurst, the majority whip in the House of Representatives, motored through her primary.
"I could not have gotten done what I did without them," Markell said.
The governor also stuck with longtime allies like Lynne Newlin, who hosted a fund-raiser for him way back in 1998 in his first political foray for state treasurer. Newlin won her primary in a new House district that straddles New Castle and Kent Counties and faces Jeffrey Spiegelman, the Republican candidate, in the fall.
The same went for Andy Staton, who won in a new Sussex County senatorial district in a three-way race that also included Bob Frederick, a past mayor of Dewey Beach. Next up for Staton is Ernie Lopez, who survived a cutthroat primary on the Republican side against Glen Urquhart.
"Andy is wonderful. I endorsed him before he had a primary, and I wasn't going to withdraw. I like Frederick, too," Markell said.
There was no evidence of the governor in the boisterous five-way mayor's race in Wilmington, where Dennis P. Williams can count himself the mayor-elect without a Republican opponent on the ballot, but Markell did put in an appearance in two rip-roaring races in New Castle County.
Markell sided with the losers in both. He was with Paul Clark, the county executive who was run out of office by Tom Gordon, and he was with Renee Taschner, who was defeated by Chris Bullock in the primary for County Council president. In an overwhelmingly Democratic county, Gordon and Bullock are virtual shoo-ins against weak Republican candidates.
Despite the spotty showing of Markell's chosen candidates, he still had something to take away from it all.
"He's showing me some moxie," said Mark Murowany, the Wilmington Democratic chair.
A governor makes his mark by showing loyalty to those who are loyal to him and by taking sides and making it stick. Markell came away from Primary Day not there yet.