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:
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.
That 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.
The 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.
The 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.
In 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.
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.