2014: The Delaware Senate

Filed in Delaware by on April 24, 2014

We have gotten several comments recently from newcomers to Delaware asking us to explain who the cast of characters that is Delaware politics. So here is a first post in a series of posts giving every one of our readers an overview of the upcoming elections in the Delaware Senate. And then we will review the elections in the House. And then we will profile each and every Senator and Representative in our General Assembly. Each profile will include demographic information about each Senator or Representative, and information about their respective districts.

First, some basics about the Senate. The upper house has 21 districts. Senate Districts are separately drawn from Representative Districts. In some states, a legislative district is drawn up and that one district has one senator and two representatives. But not Delaware. Next week, I am going to write up a post on what our General Assembly would look like if Delaware followed a one legislative district system, but I digress for now.

Senators are generally elected to four year terms, as opposed to Representatives, which are elected for only two year terms. Notice the use of the word “generally.” Typically, one class of 10 Senators is elected in 2002, 2006, and 2010, and the other class is elected in 2000, 2004, and 2008. The problem is that in the election right after the census is performed (1992, 2002, 2012, 2022, etc.), every single Senator is on the ballot, as required by Delaware law. Thus, the class of Senators that is elected in 2010, have to stand for election again in 2012. So, in such a case, these Senators are only serving a two year term.

Currently, there are 13 Democrats and 8 Republicans in the Senate. The President of the Senate is the Lt. Governor, currently (but not for long) Matt Denn (D). The President Pro Tempore of the Senate is Senator Patricia Blevins (D-7th SD). Now, the President Pro Tem gig is not a merely ceremonial one like it is in the US Senate. Here, the President Pro Tem has some real “Speaker” like power. The rest of the Senate leadership is as follows:


To aid us in this series will be the graphics and tools of Stephen Wolf and his team at Daily Kos Elections. They have put together a Google Spreadsheet that shows us a map of all the Senate districts in Delaware, and colors them according to how they voted in the 2012 election and which party represents these districts today.

Districts colored solid red voted for Romney, and sent a Republican to the [Dover]; Solid blue seats voted for Obama and elected a Democrat. Light red districts voted for Obama while voting for a Republican legislator, while light blue seats [voted for Romney while electing a Democratic Senator]. Simply click on a district and it will tell you who represents it, which party they belong to, when they first took office, their last election result, and the 2012 presidential result. For a larger map click the link [above].

This is is a great tool for a political junkie. What jumped out at me is that there are basically only 6 competitive Senate districts, and only one of them is ripe for a Republican takeover. Here is a chart of what I mean:

Stephen Wolf:

Democrats have controlled the Delaware Senate since 1974 and with 14 of the chamber’s 21 seats carried by Obama, that majority is not in danger. The median district voted for Obama 57-41, two points to the right of the state. Republicans hold two Obama seats, including the median district. By contrast, the only red Senate seat Democrats hold is Romney’s best in the state, a southwestern Sussex county seat that backed him 60-39.

VenablesThat Romney seat is the 21st Senate District, held by Senator Bob Venables. The second Venables retires, the seat will be won by a Republican. The rest of the districts I have highlighted in yellow above are those that could flip due to district’s performance in 2012.

CloutierThe seat most likely to flip to the Democrats, which Wolf describes as the state’s median district (and it is also the district where I live) is the 5th Senate District, represented by Senator Cathy Cloutier (R). But Cathy has been targeted twice now, in 2008 and 2012, and she has survived, last time by a very respectable 56.8%. Given Obama’s 58.4% of the vote in 2012, there is a huge ticket splitting contingent there. 13.2% of the district’s voters voted for Obama and Cloutier. Cloutier is not up for election this year, and she will continue her luck of getting placed in high turnout Presidential election years.

LavelleThe next closest seat is that of Senate Minority Whip Greg Lavelle (R-4th SD). Lavelle barely defeated former Senator Mike Katz last time, with 51.7% of the vote. The district itself barely for Obama with 50.7%. The district was the closest on the Presidential level, followed by the 6th in Sussex County and the 16th in Kent County. Lavelle is up for election this year, but so far there is no challenger. And given Lavelle’s placement as a freshman Minority Whip and a possible GOP gubernatorial candidate in 2016, Lavelle might not get one. And that would be foolish on the Democrats part.

How are both parties doing in recruiting candidates so far in the Senate races?

In terms of the competitive seats we have up this year, the GOP has Bryant Richardson running again against Senator Venables in the 21st. Venables won with 56% of the vote last time, and I think it will be closer this time. I would rate the 21st a toss up. I already addressed the 4th. So far the Dems don’t have a candidate to go up against Lavelle. If they get a credible candidate, then I would rate this race as a Lean Republican if only because of the past numbers.

Snyder.HallIn the 6th, the Democrats have a great candidate in Claire Synder-Hall. The incumbent, Senator Ernie Lopez (R), is a freshman Senator first elected in 2012 in the newly created 6th District. Obama won 49.1% of the vote in 2012, while Lopez won 56.8%. You know who I want to meet? The 5.9% of the voters who voted for Lopez and Obama. That 5.9% is key to whether this race is competitive. Were these 5.9 percenters turned off by some last minute Staton and third party advertising in 2012? If they were (and anecdotely, I have heard from several people who were), then they could come home in 2014, making this race very close. Lopez

So at best for the GOP, they might gain one seat if they win the 21st and hold onto the 4th and 6th, in which case the chamber would be 12-9. Or nothing at all could change, and we will again be 13-8. Or the Dems could pick up the 6th, and return the chamber to 14-7. But in no scenario can the GOP capture the majority.


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  1. 2014: The Delaware House : Delaware Liberal | April 25, 2014
  1. Mitch Crane says:

    An excellent analysis of the Delaware Senate. In looking at the 6th Senate race in 2012, Delaware Dem misses an important fact in correctly stating that Obama received a larger percentage of the vote than Staton did. The difference was not so much voters who voted for Obama and then for Lopez; it is that 1,500 voters who made a selection for president but did not vote for state senator. This has always been a problem with “low information” voters who feel informed about candidates at the top of the ticket, but choose to ignore lower ballot offices.

    As to specific Sussex districts, one has to evaluate not just numbers and the qualities of the incumbents and their challengers, but also divisions in the parties.

    In the 6th, Senator Lopez has managed to anger those on the left who voted for him (with his opposition to marriage and gender identification equality) as well as those on the right (by his support for death penalty repeal). Claire Snyder-Hall has been campaigning for over a year and has levels of support that already surpass the great support Andy Staton had.

    In the 18th, the winner of the Democratic Primary will be taking on the Republican Senate leader unknown in half his district and who has also turned off his conservative base. A well-funded Democrat could be a challenge to Simpson, who won only by a narrow margin in 2008-the last Democratic challenge he had.

    While the statistics in the 21st certainly would indicate a Republican win in normal circumstances, in Senator Venables the voters have an incumbent who pays attention to his district and votes on many issues to the right of even some Republican senators. Add to that a VERY divided Sussex Republican Party, where many would like to see Venables beat Richardson one last time, clearing the way in their mind for their choice to replace Venables when he retires.

  2. Delaware Dem says:

    Thanks Mitch. Yeah, I was going only on percentages and not raw votes. So if there was an undervote, I would have missed it.

  3. Dave says:

    “You know who I want to meet? The 5.9% of the voters who voted for Lopez and Obama.”

    I am one of the 5.9%. I pay no attention to advertising content, except perhaps whether it is attack ads, which counts as a negative against the attacker. Lopez just seemed to be the better candidate. He had a level of maturity and realism that I found attractive. My first impression of Synder-Hall is that she is qualified and able. So I intend to give her a listen. I am a political centrist and a registered (U) (Delaware’s version of Independent I guess). I’m not an automatic vote for anyone, so there is an opportunity.

  4. Mitch Crane says:

    The line is “I don’t care what they say about me, as long as they spell my name right”

    It is Claire SNYDER-Hall. You can still say nice things about her. I hope more people like “Dave” check her out. She is progressive. She is educated (Phd). She knows how to get her message across and how to educate ( was a long-time professor of Politcal Science at George Mason University as well as a well-published political thinker). She also has a warm personality, which I found out the hard way is needed to win office. Ernie Lopez is a decent person, but this district ( I live here) needs a senator who not only understands the issues, but has the ability AND INFLUENCE to deliver. I am optomistic that Claire Snyder-Hall will be one of 4 Democratic women elected from Sussex in November.

  5. Bane says:

    Not half bad.

    Raw numbers would tell the complete story though. It’s hard to judge these districts by percentages alone.

    It’s also difficult to use results from Presidential years to predict what may happen in a midterm election. Presidential election years typically have higher turnout and voters tend to be more liberal whereas midterm elections tend to have lower turnout and the voters tend to be slightly more conservative. That small caveat can have a huge effect on these close elections.

    All and all, good work.

  6. Delaware Dem says:

    Bane (and when I read your words I am hearing them in the Bane voice, not unlike the video below)… I will get the raw numbers on the competitive races for you, for both 2012 and 2010.

  7. Duncan Holyoke says:

    It will be interesting to hear your read on the Representatives and their races. Don’t forget that many people just pick a side and vote the Democratic or Republican ticket.

  8. Delaware Dem says:

    I am working on that right now and I will publish it tomorrow morning at 8 am.

  9. SussexAnon says:

    That “level of maturity and realism” you thought you saw went right out the window after Lopez was elected.

    Sorry you couldn’t see through the B.S. as he wiggled around the marriage equality issue on the campaign trail. Then he gets elected and……..votes against it (who didn’t see that coming?) But not before pointing out how personally hurt he felt by some mean things that were said about him by members of the gay community.

    Maturity? Hardly. He needs to grow a thicker skin and represent the people of his district. Realism? Ha, his district has the highest concentration of gay voters and he quickly turned his back on their big issues. So sorry many of them were duped into voting for him, or sitting this one out, including members of his own church. There is a lot more to the story but I will stop there.

  10. Kelly Sheridan says:

    Great synposis. Can’t wait to move to Delaware this summer so I can vote in the next election!

  11. Perry says:

    Excellent job, DelDem. Thanks.

    Sussex County Dems have Mitch Crane on the scene now who is doing a great job.

    With a great candidate in Snyder-Hall, I believe the Dems will pick up Senate District 6, which, btw, is my district.

  12. Dave says:

    “Sorry you couldn’t see through the B.S. as he wiggled around the marriage equality issue ”

    Lopez voted for HB 35 (gun check bill) and SB 19 (death penalty repeal bill). But, using your criteria, no one in public office would be able to satisfy you because they would be unable to meet your standards.

    I approach things from a different perspectives I suppose. Progressives and conservatives seem to be similar in that regard. Their public servants continue to fail them when they do not hew strictly to the straight and narrow progressive or conservative path. I, on the other hand, have no litmus tests per se, except that they have to be mature, knowledgeable, and rational. As an example, I am anti-abortion, but I have no qualms about supporting someone who is pro-abortion when they otherwise exhibit the qualities I look for. While my approach is decidedly dispassionate and non-prejudicial, I am attracted to those who exhibit the ability to govern with competence rather than passion.

    Snyder-Hall may be categorized as a “progressive.” But even though I am a wishy washy centrist I’ll consider her because, first and foremost, she appears to be rational, level headed, and competent.

  13. calvin sparks says:

    Hey, I had the pleasure of meeting mitch in 2012 when he was running for Insurance Commisioner, In my opinion Mitch Crane had a Warm personality, and had a heart of gold when it came to the Delaware Insurance Consumer, I hope Mitch puts thought into running again

  14. SussexAnon says:

    “But, using your criteria, no one in public office would be able to satisfy you because they would be unable to meet your standards.”

    Uhm, no. Since you don’t know me, please do not presume to know my criteria.

    I was merely calling into question Lopez’ “maturity and realism” on an issue that was a big deal to the district that contains the largest LGBT voting block in the state. He weaseled his way into office by playing it cute on the gay marriage issue. He also tried (and got) it both ways on the “andy (actually an out of state group) sent out a meannie mailer about me” and its all Andys fault. When earlier in the campaign a thrid party mailer went out against Andy and Lopez said, “that wasn’t me that was somebody else.”

    Maturity and realism? Hardly. A dickish thin skinned politician who claims he voted against gay marriage because someone said something mean about him in an Op-ed? Definately.

    Not to mention the dog whistle politics of “he’s (Lopez) a family man” (and we all know what that means, right? nudge nudge wink wink)

    BTW, Gary Simpson supports the repeal of the death penalty, that doesn’t mean I would support him or pretend that he is some awesome Senator.

    Even a broken clock is right twice a day.

    Best of luck to Snyder-Hall, she has an uphill battle to be sure. I hope the LGBT actually shows up (for her) this time. Or that there isn’t some whisper campaign and/or coordinated effort within the community to knock Andy out of contention. Just sayin’

  15. SussexAnon says:

    Mitch Crane for Lt. Gov. 🙂