Delaware is a much-overlooked state for the GOP. In 2016, Trump lost by about 50,000 votes which should give the GOP some hope. But 2018 dashed any hopes as they lost every statewide and federal office races. Democrats also managed to strengthen their existing advantages in the state senate and house. Democrats hold a 2:1 advantage in voter registration.
State GOP chair Mike Harrington groped for answers and came up with the fact that Maryland and Massachusetts were blue states with GOP Governors. If that is the most hope the state GOP can offer, their problems run deep. However, some pundits, including University of Delaware’s Theodore Davis, believes that if downstate Trump Republicans can forge some alliance with upstate conservatives more worried about fiscal instead of social issues like gun control or abortion, Republicans can create some winners.
Delaware is only three counties. In the north, which is the center of population with Wilmington as the hub, it is clearly Democratic, rather independent in the middle, and most conservative in the southern Sussex county. It is here where one will find the most Trump enthusiasts. New faces in the GOP infrastructure in Sussex county are already planning the framework for alignment with Trump’s reelection efforts.
In the end, it comes down to two fundamentals in Delaware where the GOP has been lacking: messaging and strategy. Ironically, given its small population and relative-to-Democrat’s registration disadvantage, alleged party disunity is not the top problem. Instead, it may be getting away from those fundamentals that has caused GOP losses in this state.
In neighboring Maryland, the biggest news is the announcement that Patrick O’Keefe is stepping down as Executive Director of the party and will be replaced by Corine Frank. Frank is a Anne Arundel county native who has worked in that county’s GOP. She joins fellow Anne Arundel county native Dirk Haire who is the state’s party chief.
Of course, when talking of Maryland GOP politics one must inevitably talk about Republican Governor Larry Hogan, one of the most popular governors of either party governing a very blue state. In some respects, Hogan exemplifies many within the GOP when it comes to Trump- they like the policies, but not necessarily the policy-maker or the man being the spokesperson for those policies. Hogan has often spoken out against Trump and even considered a primary run in 2020. He has accused the RNC of going the extra mile to protect Trump from a potentially draining primary.
This seems to be at some odds with Dirk Haire who was Hogan’s campaign attorney and remains a close adviser to the Governor. At the annual Washington county GOP gala in May, 2018, Haire openly defended Trump and his policies. In 2017, Maryland Democrats passed legislation allowing the state attorney general to sue the Trump administration. Hogan opposed the measure and subsequently refused to fund the measure. In effect, we have rhetorical swipes at Trump but little else when it comes to Hogan. This exemplifies the Kasichites in the Party- they finally have someone who will actually fight for and implement conservative policies. It’s just that they do not like the person doing it, for whatever reason.
One would be remiss not to mention a recent event in the state senate where longtime conservative Democrat senate president Thomas “Mike” Miller is relinquishing that title, but not his senate seat. This is important since the more progressive wing of the state’s Democrats have viewed Miller as an obstruction to a more progressive agenda. They previously tried to take down Miller in 2018 but failed although a variety of liberal groups managed to oust many of his allies in the senate.
Originally, anti-abortion and anti-gay marriage Democrat Douglas J. Peters of St. George’s county was considered the frontrunner. But with backing from more progressive senators like the 83-year-old Delores Kelley, a Baltimore area senator, Bill Ferguson, who is clearly liberal, won. The ascension of Ferguson moves the center of Democratic power in Maryland away from the DC suburbs to the Baltimore area. Adrienne Jones is the speaker of the state house and she too hails from Baltimore having replaced the previous deceased speaker who came from Anne Arundel county. Baltimore relies very heavily on state aid for basic municipal services. Having a veto-proof majority in the legislature in Annapolis, Democrats seemed poised now more than ever to pass even more progressive legislation along the lines that we have seen in places like New York, Massachusetts, California and Washington.
The question then becomes whether the Democratic legislature will overplay their progressive hand. Equally important will be how Larry Hogan handles that legislation passing over his desk for a signature. If he wants to take a conservative stand, then he should just veto every progressive piece of trash and let the legislature take credit for the inevitable failures.
Regardless, the best way forward for the GOP in Maryland is to field viable candidates wherever possible, but realize that they are vastly outnumbered in the DC suburbs and Baltimore. They may not be able to send any more Republicans to DC other than Andy Harris, but they can make inroads by financially supporting Republicans in the remaining conservative areas in General Assembly and state senate races. Some moderate Democrats can even be picked off. For that, they will need the assistance of a popular Republican governor in the form of Hogan. The only question is whether he is up to the task.