The last time one party controlled all six statewide elected offices in Delaware was 1970. That year, Republicans held majorities of both chambers of the General Assembly. Republicans also served as governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, auditor, treasurer and insurance commissioner.
While no party has completely controlled all of state government since, Democrats are eager for the chance to sweep.
“It’s certainly one of our paramount goals this cycle,” said Jesse Chadderdon, state Democratic Party executive director. Democrats have never held all six state offices at the same time.
To accomplish that goal, they would have to win Tuesday’s election for auditor and treasurer, which Republicans now hold.
Four years ago, Republicans celebrated the end of a 20-year-drought with Ken Simpler’s win in the treasurer’s race. His triumph marked the first time the GOP had won an open seat in two decades.
Currently Delaware Republicans hold just two of the six positions in statewide elected office. Republican Auditor Tom Wagner is not running for re-election, leaving first term treasurer Simpler as the only incumbent Republican on the 2018 statewide ballot.
After four years in office, Simpler’s name recognition has barely improved. A 2016 University of Delaware poll of 900 registered voters found 55 percent couldn’t rate or had never heard of Simpler. A similar poll this September found little improvement, with 53 percent of voters who still had never heard of the treasurer.
While there’s been no public polling of Simpler’s Democratic challenger, Colleen Davis, the Democratic voter registration advantage coupled with a possibility of a ‘blue wave’ could help Davis unseat Simpler.
“I can’t predict exactly what that will look like, but I can say that in general people are really tired of politicians who say they’re not politicians,” Davis said. “If there’s a blue wave, I will be happy to take the opportunity to ride the wave.”
Simpler says candidates for treasurer with higher political aspirations and no financial background can cost the state money. Simpler said accusations of mishandling of state funds by a deputy to former Treasurer Chip Flowers, which caused Flowers to drop out of his 2014 re-election campaign, were what spurred him to run for the office four years ago.
Simpler and Davis met last month in a candidates forum hosted by the Wilmington Rotary Club. They have very different backgrounds that color their ideas about what the treasurer’s focus should be.
Davis points to her experience as a financial consultant in the health care industry. “As a consultant, I’ve been able to really change the trajectory of thousands of people’s lives,” Davis said. “I look for financial opportunities to help keep small practices open and viable.” She said she’ll apply that experience in the treasurer’s office.
Before his election in 2014, Simpler was CFO of Seaboard Hotels, which operates hotel and rental properties in Rehoboth Beach, Dewey Beach and Nags Head, North Carolina. He also oversaw a billion dollar portfolio as managing director at Citadel LLC, a global investment fund. “I respect my opponent’s comments around consulting, but the reality is I’m the only person up here who has managed a billion dollar portfolio of fixed income securities,” Simpler said at the Wilmington forum.
When asked if personnel changes were needed in the treasurer’s office, Simpler quipped, “Definitely not at the top.”
Davis disagreed, “I’ve actually had several people from the current treasurer’s office who’ve made donations to my campaign. That’s how strongly they feel about their current leadership,” she said.