The Delaware Democratic Party is asking its political candidates across all of this year’s races to take the time to evaluate if they really stand a chance of winning their election.
The party’s leader John Daniello wrote letters to all the Democratic candidates asking them to consider dropping out of their race prior to September’s primary elections.
State Sen. Bryan Townsend, D-Newark, who is vying for a Congressional seat this year, brought up the issue on his Facebook account Wednesday night. He said he disagrees with the letter, stating he believes voters should choose candidates.
“In a state where Democrats enjoy a strong registration advantage, primary elections are critical. In fact, if it weren’t for grassroots primary elections I would not have been elected a State Senator in 2012,” Townsend wrote.
“I believe that primary campaigns in which candidates respect voters and each other and focus on ideas can serve to strengthen our party’s eventual nominee and our democracy.”
In the letter, Daniello writes State Rep. Bryon Short, who dropped out of the congressional race and decided to run for reelection as a representative, is a “shining example” of what needs to happen in the primaries, stating; “I am sure Bryon would have made a fine Congressman, but after surveying the field he felt it was not his time and respectfully bowed out. I want to encourage you to adopt some of that same thinking.”
He continues to write he believes the number of Democrats running in this year’s race, 63 in total, is too high, and “when they balloon to the size that ours have they benefit neither the candidate, nor the party, nor the community you seek to represent.”
Daniello encourages candidates to give a “second and third thought” to their candidacy, and tells them there is “no room for vanity campaigns, either statewide or local.”
While some elected officials told WHYY this sort of talk is commonplace, several other candidates said they were offended by the letter. Some candidates said they couldn’t talk on the record because they feared retaliation from Daniello.
WHYY reached out to the Delaware Democratic Party, but Daniello has yet to respond to the request for comment.
Attorney Brad Eaby, who is running for Lt. Governor, said the party told him on Wednesday the letter was sent to every single candidate, incumbent or newcomer. He said he understands the value in having a discussion on who should run and who should not—but now it is too late.
“Still, the timing of the letter, the language used, I think was…I would have used a different approach myself,” Eaby said.
“The democratic process, the right of people to run for office, I’m going to fall on the side of, ‘I don’t think it’s a necessary letter,’ or ‘I don’t agree people should be necessarily asked to withdraw if they’re a viable good candidate, which I believe I am.’”
Some Democrats say they don’t know what the big deal is, however.
“I didn’t give it a second thought,” said County Executive Tom Gordon, who’s running for reelection. “This doesn’t discourage anyone else from running.”
New Castle County Councilman Penrose Hollins, also running for reelection, said he doesn’t know why the letter is stirring so much controversy.
“I’m at a loss as to why this letter is such a big deal to anyone,” he said. “It simply states the chairman’s concerns and I’m more focused on real issues.”
Wilmington City Council President Theo Gregory, who is running in the mayoral election, said the letter is “just what chair people do. It is part of the party.” However, he did add it makes more sense on the federal level. At the local level, “everyone has a right to run, because there’s less money tied up in the elections.”
Other candidates, like businessman Mike Miller, who’s running against Townsend, said he thought the letter was “very distasteful.” He said he even believes Daniello should resign because of it.
Miller said there’s not enough diversity in Delaware politics, and he’s tired of seeing the same well-connected individuals elected into office.
“We can no longer continue to accept what people like Mr. Daniello, or what others are saying who are in the upper echelon—they just want their same people in office. There are well-qualified individuals out here who can lead the state and take us in another direction,” Miller said.
“I don’t know who they believe they want as a frontrunner, or if they’re trying to make room for Jack Markell to run, but Jack had his opportunity in the state. We have to do something different.”
House of Representatives candidate David Brady said he would never allow a letter like this to change his decision to run for office.
“The goal is for us to say, ‘Oh yeah, you’re right, and have harmony in the party, and do the right thing, I should get out,’” he said.
“I don’t have a personal agenda other than represent the people. We’ll see it to the end. If we were serious enough to pay the money to get in, why would (the letter) be affective?”
Sean Barney, a former policy director for Jack Markell who’s running for Congress, said he too disagrees with the letter.
“While I believe that I am the most experienced and best candidate to represent Delaware in Congress, the voters should decide after a healthy and open debate,” he said in an email. “I hope the other candidates stand with me in calling for the party to leave the decision to the voters in the primary.”
Pharmacist and realtor Kathy McGuiness, who’s running for Lt. Governor, agrees primary elections should decide who stays and who goes.
“Primaries have long been the process for voters to get to know all of their candidates, and provide an important opportunity for voters to choose who should represent them,” she said in an email. “I’m focused on getting my message out to voters.”
House Majority Leader Valerie Longhurst, D-Bear, who’s running for reelection, reiterated those feelings.
“I believe in the democratic process where Delawareans have options in who represents them,” she said in an email. “By having primaries raises the bar which holds candidates and incumbents as to how they can best serve the state.”
Phil Casey contributed to this article.