What you need to know about the top races on Primary Day in Delaware

(Danya Henninger/Billy Penn)

(Danya Henninger/Billy Penn)

It’s Primary Day in Delaware. Republicans and Democrats will head to the polls if they haven’t already mailed in their votes.

U.S. Senate

Joe Biden isn’t on the ballot today (Delaware’s presidential primary was in July), but the man who took over his seat in the Senate is.

Senator Chris Coons faces progressive newcomer Jess Scarane in today’s Democratic primary. Coons first won the special election for the seat in 2010 after Republican favorite former governor and nine-term Congressman Mike Castle was stunned in the GOP primary by Tea Party favorite Christine O’Donnell, who grabbed national attention for her “I’m not a witch” campaign ads.

Scarane will attempt to pull off a shocking upset of Coons in her challenge from the left side of the Democratic Party. She backs Bernie Sanders-esque reforms including the Green New Deal and opening up Medicare for All. Coons says while he supports the ends of those plans, he’s not on board with the means. After fighting to keep Republicans from dismantling the Affordable Care Act, Coons said a drastic change like Medicare for All wouldn’t be able to garner the bipartisan support needed to get it done.

Scarane has also questioned Coons’ commitment to the Senate. If Biden wins the White House, Coons would not rule out leaving the Senate to help Biden. “I expect that I will do whatever helps the state of Delaware and the Biden administration the most,” he said. “I am fairly certain that means serving in the Senate, but if the Vice President asks me to take on a very senior role, I would seriously consider it.”

On the Republican side, party-endorsed candidate James DeMartino will take on Lauren Witzke. DeMartino graduated from the Citadel and worked as an intelligence officer in the U.S. Marine Corps. He went on to work in the private sector, including time at defense contractor Northrop Grumman. He now works as an attorney in private practice. DeMartino calls himself a “constitutional conservative.” He’s an advocate of home-schooling, private and charter schools, and a strong supporter of the 2nd Amendment.

Witzke dubs herself an “America first” conservative. She supports a 10-year stop on all immigration. She wants to end DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. The Obama-era program allows qualified individuals brought to the U.S. 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.

Wilmington Mayor

A three-way contest for Wilmington mayor could be the closest race of the night. Incumbent Mayor Mike Purzycki won four years ago with just 234 votes in a crowded field of Democratic candidates.

Today he faces two challengers in the Democratic primary, city Treasurer Velda Jones-Potter, who he’s clashed with over city finances, and Justen Wright, a former city councilman. Purzycki urged voters to look around the city — to the new parks, recreation centers, downtown apartments and restaurants, Philadelphia 76ers’ sports complex, and other amenities that have sprouted since he took office in January 2017. “I don’t have to promise anybody anything,’’ Purzycki recently told WHYY News. “I can just say, ‘Take a look at what I’ve accomplished over the last 3 1/2 years, and if you are happy then just please re-elect me.’”

Jones-Potter and Wright are both targeting Purzycki’s background as former director of the Riverfront Development Corporation. Both of his opponents are using the slogan “people over property” to point to what they say is evidence of Purzycki being more of a friend to developers and corporate interests than to residents of the many low-income neighborhoods whose streets are lined with vacant row homes with windows and doors covered with plywood, and where people live in fear of flying bullets.

Rising violence in the city this year has also been an issue in the mayoral contest. Purzycki points to similar trouble in other cities that show this is not a unique-to-Wilmington problem. He says it’s the result of people being out of work and the “toxic environment” the pandemic has created. With a new police chief brought in from outside Wilmington early in his term, violent crime had seen a significant improvement in 2018. But violence has returned this year with a 70% increase in the number of people shot compared to last year and a more than 50% increase in the number of people killed compared to this time last year.

Jones-Potter blamed the violence on the proliferation of high-powered weapons, group violence and retaliation. She proposed an urban violence commission of social workers and interventionists to try to disrupt groups that are committing violence.

Wright said the city needs to work better with community groups in the neighborhoods to reduce crime, especially “faith-based organizations that are already operating in high-poverty and high-crime areas.”

The primary winner will be mayor, as Republicans did not field a candidate.


Incumbent Gov. John Carney also faces a primary challenge from newcomer David Lamar Williams. Williams, an accountant, wants to implement a four-day-work-week statewide and legalize recreational marijuana. While it’s not clear where Carney stands on the shorter work week, he has opposed recreational marijuana in his first term.

Republicans have a wide field to pick from to run for governor. Six Republicans are on the ballot. They include state Sen. Colin Bonini who ran for governor in 2016 and lost by nearly 20 percentage points to Carney. It’s also the second gubernatorial run for Dave Graham, who ran as a write-in candidate in 2012. He also ran for attorney general in 2014 as an independent and got just 2% of the vote.

The Delaware GOP-endorsed Julianne Murray, a lawyer from Georgetown, as the party backed candidate at the state convention earlier this year. She denounced Carney’s emergency orders under the coronavirus that have cost businesses money. She says Carney has mismanaged the pandemic shutdown.

State Sen. Bryant Richardson and small business owner David Bosco are also on the ballot.

Perennial candidate Scott Walker is running this year as a Republican for governor. Walker is most well known for his handmade campaign signs that dot the state’s highways. He shocked the state GOP in 2018 when he won the Republican primary for U.S. House despite raising no money. Incumbent Congresswoman Lisa Blunt Rochester, who beat Walker in the Democratic primary in 2016, took 64% of the vote over Walker in 2018.

Polls are open until 8 pm.

Which way will Pa. vote?

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal