Governor, U.S. Senate and U.S. House seats are up for grabs in Delaware

Sussex County criminal defense attorney Julianne Murray (Murray for Delaware) and Delaware Gov. John Carney (Office of Gov. John Carney)

Sussex County criminal defense attorney Julianne Murray (Murray for Delaware) and Delaware Gov. John Carney (Office of Gov. John Carney)

Though fellow Delawarean Joe Biden’s presidential campaign has received more than the lion’s share of attention this campaign season, voters in the state will also select their next governor, U.S. senator and representative in the U.S. House in the Nov. 3 general election.

There’s a theme for Democratic incumbents, as none of their Republican challengers have ever held office before.

Carney vs. Murray for governor

For Gov. John Carney, the political newcomer is Republican attorney Julianne Murray. Murray’s campaign has focused almost exclusively on the past six months and Carney’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic. She sued to challenge Carney’s emergency order banning short-term rentals, an order that was repealed shortly after the lawsuit was filed.

Murray has supported efforts to reopen Delaware businesses and characterized Carney’s emergency orders, which shuttered the state early in the pandemic, as an “unconstitutional power grab” and politically motivated. Carney says he’s followed recommendations from leading health officials in the state and from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Politics never entered my mind making decisions to keep Delawareans safe [in] unprecedented territory with no playbook,” he said at a recent voters forum.

Like many of her fellow Republican challengers, Murray accuses the incumbent Carney of being a “career politician” who has lost touch with voters.

Carney has been in elected office since serving eight years as lieutenant governor under Gov. Ruth Ann Minner. After losing the Democratic primary for governor to Jack Markell in 2008, Carney served three terms in the U.S. House from 2010 to 2016. He was elected governor four years ago, defeating Republican State Sen. Colin Bonini with nearly 60% of the vote.

In his first term, Carney has worked to improve conditions for both incarcerated people and correctional officers in Delaware’s prisons following a riot that ended in the death of an officer just a few days after Carney was sworn in. He also fought his way out of a $385.5 million deficit in the state budget in that first year in office, and eventually the state’s economic picture improved.

Before the pandemic hit this year, Carney’s budget was flush with cash. Even with that rosier budget, Carney still called on lawmakers to approve his plan to squirrel away more than $160 million in a reserve account to use in case of an economic downturn, in addition to the state’s rainy day fund that holds about 5% of the state’s projected revenue.

That economic downturn would arrive just a few weeks after Carney’s January budget presentation as he ordered businesses shut down to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Voters will decide whether Carney’s response to the pandemic was appropriate.

Independent Party of Delaware candidate Kathy DeMatteis and Libertarian John Machurek are also running for governor.

Coons vs. Witzke for U.S. Senate

Chris Coons won his first term as U.S. senator in 2010 by defeating Republican Christine O’Donnell, a strongly conservative woman who had run twice for Senate but was soundly defeated both times.

This year, Coons faces another conservative Republican woman in Lauren Witzke, who has never run for office before. Coons has a big advantage in experience, after serving 10 years now in Washington. He led New Castle County, Delaware’s most populous county, for 10 years before that, serving as both County Council president and then county executive.

Witzke describes herself as an “America First” conservative and is an opponent of any immigration, legal or not. She supports a 10-year moratorium on all immigration and wants to end DACA, the Obama-era program that allows qualified individuals brought to the United States as children to get legal status if they graduate from high school or were honorably discharged from the military and if they passed a background check. Witzke says those DACA recipients should be deported.

The two squared off at a voter forum in mid-September shortly after the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg and sharply disagreed about her legacy and the process to fill her seat on the Supreme Court. Witzke was critical of Ginsburg’s dying wish for Congress to wait to replace her until after the election. “It just goes to show that Ruth Bader Ginsburg completely misinterpreted the Constitution,” she said. Coons countered, saying the very reason Ginsburg should be honored is that she understood the constitution deeply. “She knew that a partisan political exercise jamming through this nominee just days before the election would risk further dividing the Senate and our nation,” he said.

During the debate, Witzke also repeated her belief that Black Lives Matter is a terrorist organization and expressed her support for QAnon, the conspiracy theory that claims President Donald Trump is battling a deep state child sex trafficking ring run by high-profile Democrats and celebrities. “It’s just a bunch of people who want pedophiles held accountable, and from what I understand it’s absolutely harmless,” she said. Coons pointed to the FBI’s determination that QAnon is a dangerous, potential domestic terrorist group. “It is an extreme theory that is without basis in reality or fact,” he said.

Coons won his primary contest against progressive challenger Jess Scarane with 73% of the vote. Witzke defeated James DeMartino in the GOP primary, even though he was the state party’s endorsed candidate. More than 110,000 Democrats voted in the Senate primary, compared to just 53,000 who voted on the Republican side.

Independent Party of Delaware candidate Mark Turley and Libertarian Nadine Frost are also running for U.S. senator.

Blunt Rochester vs. Murphy for U.S. House

Democrat Lisa Blunt Rochester is running for her third term as Delaware’s lone member of the U.S. House of Representatives. She made history when first elected in 2016 as the only woman and the only Black candidate elected to Congress in Delaware history.

She’ll face Republican Lee Murphy, who’s making another campaign for Blunt Rochester’s seat after a surprise defeat in the GOP primary contest two years ago. In 2018, he lost the primary to Scott Walker, a political gadfly best known for handmade signs that literally litter Delaware’s highways every election year. Murphy made it through the primary this year, defeating fellow Republican Matthew Morris with 74% of the GOP vote.

Murphy spent 35 years at Amtrak, starting as a conductor and working up to a role in management. He’s since retired and has done some acting, including a small role in the Netflix political drama “House of Cards.”

Law and order is the top platform topic on his campaign website, which says, “We must gather hard data on complaints against police to better understand and alleviate any distrust of the police and to better ensure everyone’s safety.” On the economy, Murphy is for fewer regulations on businesses and is against raising the minimum wage.

Blunt Rochester has gotten some national attention this year through her connection to the Biden presidential campaign. She was named campaign co-chair and was a member of the vetting committee that eventually helped Biden select Kamala Harris as his running mate. She also spoke at the Democratic National Convention in August.

Independent Party of Delaware candidate Catherine Purcell and Libertarian David Rogers are also running for U.S. House.

Navarro vs. Pillsbury for insurance commissioner

Democrat Trinidad Navarro is running for a second term as Delaware’s insurance commissioner. He’ll face Republican Julia Pillsbury.

The commissioner is responsible for regulating the state’s insurance industry and keeping track of the insurance companies’ financials. The position is also responsible for investigating insurance fraud, and its holder typically lobbies state lawmakers for changes to state law concerning insurance.

Navarro was first elected to the job in 2016 after serving 20 years with the New Castle County Police, where he frequently appeared on TV as public information officer for the department. He was elected New Castle County sheriff in 2010.

He is currently being sued for racial and sexual discrimination by a former employee at the Department of Insurance. Fleur McKendall, the only Black director with the department, alleges Navarro touched her hair without her consent and made inappropriate comments about her appearance. She said she also was singled out and wrongly accused of writing a letter criticizing the deputy commissioner.

McKendall said that she reported the alleged abuse, but that nothing was done to investigate the situation. When the lawsuit was filed, Navarro said he couldn’t comment on personnel issues. “I can say with certainty, however, that the department respects and values all of our employees,” he said in a statement emailed to WHYY. “As the insurance commissioner and the leader of this department, I do not and will not tolerate harassment, discrimination, or retaliation of any kind against any department employee.”

Republican Julia Pillsbury comes to the insurance commissioner’s race with a much different background. She’s a medical doctor and a veteran who served in both the Army and Air Force. She says the experience of running her own medical practice and handling insurance coverage for employees gives her the experience to be an effective insurance commissioner.

Which way will Pa. vote?

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