Delaware GOP gubernatorial primary draws surge of candidates

Delaware Gov. John Carney

Delaware Gov. John Carney (Office of Gov. John Carney)

Finding Republican candidates to run for office in solid-blue Delaware can sometimes be a challenge, but there’s no shortage of GOP contenders hoping to unseat Democratic Gov. John Carney this year.

Half a dozen Republicans are vying for the GOP gubernatorial nomination in the upcoming primary election on Sept. 15, spurred in part by anger over the economically damaging restrictions he imposed in response to the coronavirus pandemic. The field consists of two state senators, two political newcomers and two perennial candidates.

Republicans believe there is enough unhappiness among the electorate that it presents an opportunity to upset Carney in the general election.

“If you take a traditional approach, John Carney can’t be beat, right?” said state GOP chairwoman Jane Brady, noting that Carney has spent decades in politics and has far more money than any of the GOP candidates. “I think there’s a great deal of anger.”

Julianne Murray
Sussex County criminal defense attorney Julianne Murray (Murray for Delaware)

The Republican Party has endorsed Julianne Murray, a Sussex County criminal defense attorney who sued Carney in federal court over a ban on short-term rentals he imposed because of the coronavirus. The ban, which was later lifted, temporarily prevented Murray and her husband from renting out their Dewey Beach condominium.

“I do think it is a referendum on how he has handled it, but I don’t think the entire election is about COVID-19,” Murray said.

While declaring that she would end the state of emergency, Murray said Delaware was facing serious problems before the virus hit. She said the state needs to do more to attract businesses wary of Delaware’s corporate and gross receipts taxes and high energy costs, as well as address poorly performing schools and public safety.

Carney, who faces political newcomer David Lamar Williams Jr. in the Democratic primary, has defended his coronavirus restrictions as necessary to protect public health, while acknowledging the hardships they have caused. On Sept. 3, he extended the state of emergency he first declared in March for another 30 days.

He has said he will continue to work on racial justice issues, strengthening public schools, improving Delaware’s infrastructure and cleaning up the state’s waterways. At the same time, he would maintain his approach of limiting growth in state spending to a level that corresponds with sustainable revenue projections.

Carney, whose campaign did not respond to interview requests, was elected governor in 2016 after serving three terms in the U.S. House.

Challenging Murray in the GOP primary are state Sens. Colin Bonini and Bryant Richardson, small business owner David Bosco, state tax enforcement officer Dave Graham and businessman Scott Walker.

Delaware State Sen. Bryant Richardson
Delaware State Sen. Bryant Richardson (Bryant Richardson for Governor)

Walter Carroll, a Dover business owner who believes Carney has done a “horrible job,” said the GOP field might offer voters more choices, but it probably won’t make a difference in the end.

“The only thought that’s going through my head is that it doesn’t matter. Republicans are so outnumbered in Delaware, it just doesn’t matter,” said Carroll, who said the only thing that saved his toy action figures and comic books business from having to close because of coronavirus restrictions were sales he made at a Chicago trade show before the virus struck.

Small business owner David Bosco
Small business owner David Bosco (Delaware GOP)

Like Murray, Bosco is a political newcomer bothered by the state’s coronavirus response and the widespread shutdown of small businesses.

“You can’t have somebody run a state who doesn’t understand business, who has never run a business, who doesn’t know the difference between the front and back side of a check,” said Bosco, who drives an automobile carrier and owns an Airsoft tactical simulation business.

Delaware State Sen. Colin Bonini
Delaware State Sen. Colin Bonini (Office of Sen. Bonini)

Richardson believes Delawareans deserve more independence from government, and that Democratic voters will eventually realize their party has been drawn too far left. Known for his strong anti-abortion stance, Richardson said his priorities include public safety, more career pathways for high school students and a drug-prevention curriculum in every school.

Bonini did not respond to phone and email messages requesting an interview and did not appear at the GOP convention.

“We don’t even know where Colin is, because he hasn’t come out of wherever he’s at,” quipped Bosco, who has recruited a small army of volunteers to knock on doors up and down the state, including in heavily Democratic New Castle County.

State tax enforcement officer Dave Graham
State tax enforcement officer Dave Graham. (Dave Graham For Delaware Governor)

Graham and Walker are political gadflies who have run unsuccessfully for statewide office several times before, sometimes after changing their party affiliations.

“I have high name recognition,” said Graham, who failed to generate much enthusiasm among voters in three previous bids for governor and two for attorney general.

Scott Walker
Scott Walker was the GOP nominee for Delaware’s long congressional seat in 2018. (Cris Barrish/WHYY)

Walker, meanwhile, has embarked on another one-man campaign of planting hand-painted campaign signs wherever he can, a tactic that paid off in 2018 when he shocked the political establishment by winning the GOP congressional primary.

“We need a constitutional amendment to clarify emergency powers,” he said. “We can’t be ruling by executive orders.”

Democratic candidate Williams, who works for a nonprofit that serves people with developmental disabilities, did not respond to a request for an interview. His website states that he is committed to “a progressive stance on empowered life for all in our communities,” including affordable housing, advanced health care options for all, and a “livable standard wage.”

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