Compare/contrast: Delaware GOP candidates for governor

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It’s been tough for Delaware Republicans to win statewide races with so many more registered Democrats than Republicans. Meet the two Republicans hoping to defeat Democrat John Carney in the November Governor’s Race: Lacey Lafferty and Colin Bonini.

We met Lacey Lafferty at her horse farm in Laurel to talk about why she’s making her first run for office as a Republican candidate for governor. “I’m running for governor because I love Delaware,” Lafferty said. “I think we all know that the state of Delaware is on the decline.”

We caught up with her primary opponent State Sen. Colin Bonini at a Kent County Republican meeting held at the Grotto’s Pizza restaurant in Dover. He’s in this race for similar reasons. “I love Delaware. Delaware’s been such a blessing to me and my wife,” Bonini said. “Delaware is in decline, and we’re worried about it.”

While their answers about why they’re running were surprisingly similar, the background of these two candidates is very different.

Lafferty is a political newcomer. Her main background in politics comes from working on the campaign of former Delaware Attorney General Jane Brady. Lafferty spent 13 years in the Delaware State Police and was awarded the Excellent Performance Award from Delaware’s Governor Minner in 2007. Since retiring, she’s walked the entire length of the state as part of an effort to raise awareness for her campaign.

Colin Bonini on the other hand is not a newcomer to state politics. He’s served as a state senator from Dover South since 1994. He’s been perhaps the most vocal opponent of increased state spending, frequently voting against the state budget. Bonini narrowly lost his statewide contest for state treasurer to Chip Flowers in 2010. That election featured Christine O’Donnell as the Republican nominee for U.S. Senate. Bonini was defeated by just 6,000 votes, despite the fact that the number of registered Democrats outnumbered Republicans in the state by more than 100,000.

When asked how he was different compared to Laffety, Bonini responded, “I think the biggest difference is: I’m in the arena. Lots of people talk about being conservative leaders. Lots of people talk about standing up big government. Lots of people talk about taking the tough votes. I’ve been doing it for 20 years.”

Those years of legislative experience are exactly why Lafferty says Bonini is not the right pick. “I bring a contrast to Senator Colin Bonini who’s been in there as a career politician doing the same old, same old,” Lafferty said. “Yeah and nay to different policies, really not helping anybody’s problems out here.”

Lafferty’s anti-establishment tone is similar to what voters heard from Tea Party candidates like Christine O’Donnell and is also similar to Donald Trump’s campaign. It’s the idea that anyone who has been in office for any length of time is part of the problem. “Whether it be Colin Bonini or [Democratic gubernatorial candidate] John Carney, both of them have been involved in politics between 22 to 25 years,” Lafferty said. “They don’t bring fresh ideas.”

Both Lafferty and Bonini support Donald Trump for President, but only Bonini was asked to speak to several thousand gathered at a Trump rally in Harrington in April. “I think the Donald Trump’s a lot more conservative than a lot of folks give him credit for,” Bonini said. “I also think he’s going to right that ship and put together a very good campaign.”

“Donald, to me, is a great person,” Lafferty said. “Donald’s worst character is that he’s got a big mouth. I don’t think he’s got a mean bone in his body…You have to understand his persona, where they’re from, they’re very gruff, kind of mannerism, as New Yorkers tend to be gruff.”

And like Trump’s depiction of the state of the union- both Bonini and Lafferty both paint a dire picture of the state of the state.

“We’re in a sad state of affairs, economically as well as job creation,” Lafferty said. “Right now we have a climate of subgrade intellectual people that we’re putting out here in our communities,” she said of the quality of Delaware’s education.

“I’m really, really worried,” Bonini said. “We have an economy that’s in the tank, we have the lowest income growth in the country, 1 in 6 Delawareans is on food stamps, 1 in 5 children in Delaware live in poverty, public education needs help, crime in Wilmington. I mean Delaware regardless of what you look at Delaware is in decline and I want to stop it.”

Both have plans to fix those problems, Bonini will be unveiling his plans over the next few weeks as part of the “Delaware To-Do List.” “The good news is that it’s absolutely fixable. We have some wonderful strengths here in Delaware, geographic location, tremendous institutions of higher education, a really well trained work force, so there’s lots of positives we really have to change the direction the state’s headed.”

“It’s a lot of fraud, waste, and corruption going on in our government,” Lafferty said. “This is where my expertise comes in here, to be able to root out the state government, of the fraud, waste, and corruption.”

The winner of the Sept. 13 Republican primary will face Democratic Congressman John Carney. It will be Carney’s second attempt at the governor’s office. Carney lost the 2008 Democratic primary to now two-term Governor Jack Markell. They’ll also face Libertarian candidate Sean Louis Goward.

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