23 Days to Election Day: Delaware and DC

First, let us dispose with the obvious. Since DC was granted three electoral votes in 1964, they have never voted for a Republican candidate for President. In fact, the lowest vote for a Democrat was 75% of the vote in 1980 for Jimmy Carter over Ronald Reagan. The demographics of our Nation’s capital dictate this 3 electoral vote head start for the Democratic Party every four years. Considering that Obama took 92% of the vote in 2008, it is a safe bet that history will not be made this year.

In Delaware, there will be a gubernatorial and Senate election along with the race for their lone House seat. All offices are currently held by Democrats. Governor Jack Markell will face Republican businessman Jeff Cragg. In 2008, Markell drew the ire of the state’s Democratic leadership by forcing a primary against former Lt. Governor John Carney. He went on to win the Governor’s office while Carney went to the House to replace Mike Castle who ran in the Republican primary for Senate, losing to Christine O’Donnell. Faced with declining revenues, Markell embarked on a campaign to slash over $300 million in state spending. The legislature did not give him everything he requested. But, they did manage to increase personal and corporate income taxes, the cigarette tax, a tax on the gross receipts of businesses and they even brought back the estate tax. The budget also depended on stimulus money and anticipated revenue from sports betting. However, a lawsuit by the NFL made that revenue basically negligible. His next budget asked for more cuts but the legislature actually increased the budget. And Delaware should be a lesson for the federal government when it comes to fiscal problems. Tax increases alone will not close budget deficits- not even close! Without budget cuts and fundamental reform of entitlements, there will always be budget shortfalls. One would think our “illustrious” vice president would learn from his home state.

Markell came into office basically promising jobs and a good economy. He has failed. His plan ran aground when he failed to lure a Fisker Motors plant to the state to reopen an idle GM plant. Valero Oil pulled out of their refinery in Delaware, although Markell managed to keep it open with a smaller company and smaller workforce. Still, it is hard to see how the heavy underdog, Jeff Cragg will defeat Markell.

In the Senate race, incumbent Democrat Tom Carper is the heavy favorite to defeat his Republican challenger, businessman Kevin Wade. Delaware has worked hard to attract banks, credit card companies and other financial firms and Carper has been at the center of it. In Delaware, liberals are depicting Wade wearing “Not a Witch” buttons harkening back to the 2010 Christine O’Donnell candidacy. Wade is a good guy running in the wrong state for the wrong office. If he should perform admirably on Election Day, perhaps he can be a Republican alternative in the US House in the future. Simply, this is not his year and not his state.

For the lone House seat, incumbent Democrat John Carney will face Tom Kovach. Carney has been in politics practically his entire adult life. He started as a staff assistant under Biden and later became an administrator in New Castle county. In 1994, then Governor Tom Carper made him deputy chief of staff and then finance secretary in 1997. In 2000, he won his first of two stints as Lt. Governor alongside Ruth Ann Minner. In 2008, he lost his gubernatorial primary to current Governor Jack Markell much to the chagrin of the Democratic establishment in Delaware. As Lt. Governor, his tenure was marred by some mini-scandals involving the state’s psychiatric hospitals and prisons and the state budget ballooned under his watch.

Tom Kovach is running a quixotic campaign against Carney. Yet, despite this being basically a Democratic state and given his name recognition, Carney won with 56% of the vote in 2010. And Kovach HAS pulled off some political stunners in the past. For example, in a special election to fill the seat of Democratic state senator Dianna Williams, Kovach won an upset then lost his 2010 reelection bid by only 400 votes. In 2011, after Chris Coons resigned his position as New Castle County Council President to run for the US Senate, Kovach won another surprise victory becoming the first Republican to win that position in 23 years. What makes it even more interesting is that New Castle County is not only the most populous of Delaware’s three counties, it is also the most Democratic. This is the northernmost county and many consider it a suburb of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Still, to believe that Kovach stands a reasonable chance of pulling an upset would defy so many odds and it would be the political upset of the year.

As concerns presidential politics, some people believe this is an iconic Democratic bastion. However, their drift towards the Democrats is a rather recent phenomena beginning in 1996 with Clinton’s reelection. Although Clinton carried the state in 1992, many believe that without Perot pulling 20% of the vote, Bush would have won that election in Delaware. In fact, Bush won two of the three counties and only lost to Clinton by 24,000 votes that year. Secondly, as one moves south through the state, the Democratic base weakens. If Republicans can make inroads in the heavily populated northern New Castle County, anchored by Wilmington, they have a fighting chance. Hence, it takes a moderate and/or liberal Republican to make those inroads and have any chance of success in Delaware at this point. In 2008, Obama carried the state by a 100,000 vote margin. That margin was wholly attributable to New Castle County where he won by 100,000 votes. The central (Kent) and southern (Sussex) counties basically cancelled each other out. But this fact needs to be considered going forward: although New Castle County accounts for greater than half of Delaware’s total population, it is also the smallest growing county in the state at 0.6%. Kent and Sussex counties are growing at the rate of 1.6%, thus moving some of the population base to the south and into more conservative territory. However, although Obama will likely not break the 60% barrier in 2012 like he did in 2008, he should still take this state’s three electoral votes.

In conclusion: Markell will win another term as Governor while Carper will be reelected to the Senate. I expect a closer race than most others predict, but John Carney will be reelected to the House. Obama will take three electoral votes from Delaware and three from DC.

Running totals thus far: Romney leads in the electoral vote count 159-124. Republicans control the Senate 34-22 and the House 126-98.

Next: New Jersey