In this pivotal election year, there is a lot more on the ballot than just the presidential race. Turnout is already high via mail-in ballots, and candidates for state and local offices are sometimes running on one platform with those at the top of the ticket, sometimes breaking ranks. Here is our candidate guide for the region. It covers statewide races in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware, plus competitive congressional races in our region. It also includes ballot questions in Philadelphia and New Jersey.
President and vice president of the United States
Donald J. Trump and Mike Pence (Republican, incumbent)
Donald Trump, 74, had never held political office before his 2016 victory. Pennsylvania was key to that win, when the state swung Republican for the first time in decades with a margin of just 44,000 votes out of 6 million. Although Philly and its surrounding counties went blue, almost all the rest of Pa. went red.
The state is considered equally, if not more, important this time around. Trump’s campaign and the Republican party have filed several lawsuits over the past six months in efforts that have tried to limit Pa. mail voting participation and disqualify certain groups of mail ballots.
Trump has visited Pennsylvania several times on the campaign trail. Last month he participated in a Philly town hall, fielding questions from undecided local voters on topics ranging from the coronavirus to police reform and military spending. At the first presidential debate, he singled out the city, now-famously saying, “Bad things happen in Philadelphia.”
Before he joined the Trump administration, Mike Pence, 61, was governor of Indiana. Prior to his election in 2012, he was a U.S. representative, where he served six consecutive terms.
During the 2020 campaign, he has visited Pennsylvania often, saying “the road to victory goes straight through” the commonwealth. During a July speech in Philadelphia hosted by the FOP Lodge 5 police union, a group identifying themselves as Proud Boys showed up and reportedly joined in the after-party.
Joseph R. Biden and Kamala Harris (Democrat)
Former Vice President Joe Biden, 77, who served two terms under Obama, is a lifelong civil servant who started his time in Washington as a U.S. senator from Delaware in 1973. He has many connections to Pennsylvania and the Philadelphia region. He was born in Scranton, Pa. and raised in Wilmington, Del. His wife Jill grew up in Willow Grove. If he were to win, she would become the first First Lady from the Philly area.
The longtime Amtrak- and ice cream-lover had Big Philly Democratic Establishment Energy during the primary, including early support from former mayors Ed Rendell and Michael Nutter. Before the pandemic, Biden designated Philadelphia his official campaign headquarters, leasing out part of the Center City office tower behind the Clothespin sculpture. He also scored a fundraiser from Comcast VP David Cohen at his Philly home.
Biden gained some respect and attention from Muslims and Arab Americans in Philadelphia when he used “inshallah” in a colloquial manner during the first presidential debate, which means “God-willing” in Arabic.
Before Kamala Harris, 55, became a U.S. senator during the 2016 election, she served as California attorney general for six years, using her time as San Francisco DA as a launchpad for statewide office.
Harris has few connections to Pennsylvania, and hadn’t made a campaign visit to Philadelphia until late September. Despite that, her biracial background — her mother is Indian American and her father is Jamaican American — has given her visibility among the city’s communities of color. If Biden were to win, she would become the country’s first vice president of either South Asian or African American descent.
Jo Jorgensen and Jeremy “Spike” Cohen (Libertarian)
It came right down to the wire, but serial Libertarian candidate Jo Jorgensen officially made it onto the Pennsylvania ballot in August. In 1992, she ran for Congress in her home state of South Carolina, and she was on the 1996 Libertarian presidential ticket as VP.
Jorgenson has a Ph.D. in organizational psychology from Clemson University, where she currently works as a full-time lecturer. Her priorities, should she be elected, are classically libertarian: introducing more private competition into the health care system, slashing taxes and reducing federal spending.
Cohen retired from the web design company he founded in 1999 and is a podcast host.
Josh Shapiro (Democrat, incumbent)
Josh Shapiro, the state’s top prosecutor gained national attention in 2018 for dropping a scathing grand jury report on sex abuse inside the Catholic church. It named 301 “predator priests,” more than 1,000 victims and pointed a finger at the entire archdiocese, accusing officials of actively covering up the scandal. The report ignited an avalanche of victims’ accounts, and led to state legislation that extended the statute of limitations for church abuse victims.
Raised in Montgomery County, Shapiro earned his political chops as a staffer for various elected officials, including as chief of staff for former U.S. Rep. Joe Hoeffel. After four terms as a state rep in Harrisburg, Shapiro was elected to his hometown’s Board of Commissioners twice before his successful 2016 run for state attorney general.
- Holding big pharma accountable for the opioid epidemic
- Combating fraud and increasing consumer protections
- Challenging many of the Trump administration’s federal policies
Heather Heidelbaugh (Republican)
Heather Heidelbaugh served one term as an at-large Allegheny County City Councilmember and has decades of previous career experience as a trial attorney. The Western Pa. Republican, originally from St. Louis, Mo., told Pittsburgh’s WESA she believes incumbent Shapiro pursues “headline-grabbing” cases to raise his political profile.
Heidelbaugh and Shapiro do agree on using the AG’s office to tackle addiction, and on her campaign website she notes that the opioid epidemic has especially harmed rural communities.
- Battling the opioid epidemic
- Enacting stronger consumer protections and the Do Not Call list
- Rooting out government corruption
Daniel Wassmer (Libertarian)
A Long Island native, Daniel Wassmer has been an attorney for the last 25 years. He’s worked as an FOP union attorney and managed his own firm in Doylestown, focusing on commercial, corporate and general litigation.
Also, if elected, Wassmer said he plans to donate half his salary to Habitat for Humanity.
As many Libertarians are, this guy is definitely anti-establishment. His slogan? “Only a political outsider can fix it.”
- End the War on Drugs
- Legalize victimless crimes like prostitution
- Protecting the Second Amendment
Richard L. Weiss (Green)
Richard Weiss is a Pittsburgh native. He does not appear to have a campaign website, nor much by way of biographical info online. According to the Green Party, he’s worked as an attorney for the U.S. Agency for International Development in D.C. and in Indonesia, helping finance various development projects.
- End cash bail
- Decriminalize drug use and sex work
- Establish police review boards made up of citizens
Nina Ahmad (Democrat)
The auditor general is Pennsylvania’s fiscal watchdog, in charge of making sure taxpayer money is spent legally and properly. With incumbent Eugene DePasquale running for congress in the 10th District, the field is wide open.
Nina Ahmad’s name might be familiar to some Philadelphians.
She was the president of the local National Organization of Women chapter, and served as deputy mayor for public engagement under Mayor Jim Kenney before resigning in 2017 to run for Bob Brady’s then-congressional seat. Not long after, Ahmad pivoted to run a last-minute race for lieutenant governor, where she came in second place. Ahmad immigrated to Pennsylvania from her native Bangladesh at 21 and earned a Ph.D in chemistry from Penn.
In the auditor general’s race, Ahmad has been the top fundraiser, raking in more than $900,000 in contributions as of June 2020. She’s received national endorsements from Pete Buttigieg, Sen. Kamala Harris and former president Barack Obama.
Her priorities for the auditor general’s office include improving access to health care by addressing issues like price-gouging. She’s been endorsed locally by the Southwest Coalition, which includes Councilman Kenyatta Johsnon, state Reps. Joanna McClinton and Jordan Harris and Sen. Anthony Williams.
Timothy DeFoor (Republican)
On the GOP ticket, DeFoor is in his second term as the Dauphin County Controller. He was the first African American elected to the role when he won in 2015. His work making the county’s financial reporting more transparent earned the office a national award.
DeFoor is a retired special agent who served under Democratic Attorney General Josh Shapiro. His auditor general campaign priorities are to cut government spending and release more data related to state contracts.
His campaign has been endorsed by the Pa. chapter of the National Federation of Independent Business. According to a Monmouth University Pa. voter poll released in early Sept, DeFoor trailed Ahmad by just two to three percentage points.
A Harrisburg native, DeFoor attended Harrisburg Area Community College, where he now sits on the board. He also attended Penn State and the University of Pittsburgh, and has a Master’s from Harrisburg University of Science and Technology, according to his LinkedIn.
Jennifer Moore (Libertarian)
Libertarian auditor general candidate Jennifer Moore is a Mont Clare, Pa. native and was elected auditor of Montgomery County’s Upper Providence township in 2017. Moore also serves as vice chair for the state Libertarian Party’s east region and vice chair for the Montgomery County Libertarians.
Moore does not have a campaign website.
Olivia Faison (Green)
Lifelong Philadelphian Olivia Faison serves in several community roles including as a block captain, chair of a local health center advisory committee, and board secretary for the City of Philadelphia Health Centers.
Faison has run for local office before, mounting a write-in campaign for councilmember-at-large in 2019. Her priorities then were establishing a Green New Deal in Philly, addressing poverty and promoting sustainability. She doesn’t have an auditor general campaign website.
Joe Torsella (Democrat, incumbent)
Raised in Berwick, Pa., Joe Torsella’s Philly roots run deep. He was deputy mayor for planning and policy under Ed Rendell in the early 90s. He also led the establishment of the National Constitution Center in Old City. Torsella graduated from Penn with a degree in economics and history. He also studied at Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar.
Moving through local, state and international government ranks, Torsella served on the state Board of Education and was an ambassador to the United Nations for budget and management reform. He was elected treasurer in 2016.
As treasurer, the state’s financial custodian watching over roughly $100 billion in taxpayer dollars, Torsella took on some high profile opponents, including Facebook, when he called on CEO Mark Zuckerburg to step down as the tech company’s board chairman. Pennsylvania’s treasury was named the lead plaintiff in a suit that argues several top banks conspired to hike bond prices, adversely affecting investors and retirees.
If elected for a second term, Torsella says he wants to launch a savings fund for Pa.-born students, expand open data and create a Pennsylvania IRA program for private workers in the state, according to his campaign site.
Stacy L. Garrity (Republican)
Campaigning on the slogan “One of us – Not a politician,” Stacy Garrity touts her lack of insider status while highlighting her military service. In 2019, she launched an unsuccessful bid for the 12th House District special election.
A retired Army Reserve colonel, the Iraq War veteran earned national recognition for her leadership at a U.S.-run Iraqi internment camp. There, she earned the title “Angel of the Desert” for her treatment of Iraqi detainees. Professionally, Garrity is an accountant and a VP at a global medal supplier based in Pa.
Like candidates across the board, Garrity wants to improve transparency within the treasury office. She wants to address wasteful government spending by looking at fees and making college more affordable through the state tuition assistance programs.
Joe Soloski (Libertarian)
Libertarian candidate Joe Soloski is a certified public accountant who managed his own accounting firm in the Pittsburgh area for nearly three decades. The Centre County resident has also worked as an accountant and financial analyst for various companies.
In 2018, Soloski ran unsuccessfully for State Rep. in the 81st District in 2018, and for Halfmoon Township Board of Supervisors in 2019. He volunteers with the Halfmoon Township planning commission.
His campaign priorities include term limits for elected officials, decreasing pay and benefits for legislators, cutting government spending and expanding the marijuana industry.
Timothy Runkle (Green)
With a degree in geology from Millersville University, Green Party candidate Timothy Runkle works as a project manager in the environmental consulting industry. He’s the treasurer for the Pa. Green Party, and co-chair for the Lancaster County Green Party.
In 2019, he won a write-in campaign for tax collector in his hometown of Elizabethtown Borough, but opted not to take the role. He also ran unsuccessfully in 2017 for Elizabethtown Borough Council. His campaign currently maintains a Facebook page.
1st Congressional District (Bucks County, parts of Montgomery County)
Brian Fitzpatrick (Republican, incumbent)
Fitzpatrick won the seat in 2016, taking it over from his retiring brother, Mike.
Fitzpatrick is one of two Republicans running in a congressional district where Hillary Clinton won in 2016. He’s perhaps the most moderate Republican in Pennsylvania’s delegation, and plays up that fact — often noting his membership in the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus.
Some of his biggest successes have had bipartisan support — the INTERDICT Act, which helps law enforcement stop illegal drugs at ports of entry; the ‘Right to Try’ bill that lets terminally ill people try experimental drugs or ones not approved by the FDA for their condition.
He was the only Republican to vote with Democrats to restore parts of the Voting Rights Act that were struck down by the Supreme Court in 2013. But he has been careful not to criticize President Trump. He voted for Trump’s 2017 tax cuts, and opposed the second, Democratic-sponsored wave of coronavirus funding.
Christina Finello (Democrat)
Finello is a Bucks County solicitor and Ivyland Borough Councilmember, and like Fitzpatrick, she’s pitching herself to voters as a steady non-idealogue.
She has sought to set herself apart from more left-leaning Democrats, too. She supports rethinking policing, but not defunding; her preferred route for health care reform is an Affordable Care Act expansion, not Medicare for All.
The race has attracted considerable super PAC money, but Finello is significantly behind Fitzpatrick in fundraising.
2nd Congressional District (Philadelphia)
Brendan F. Boyle (Democrat, incumbent)
Brendan Boyle’s been in the U.S. House since 2015. Before that, the Harvard grad worked as a Pennsylvania state rep for six years (he and his brother, Kevin, were the first brothers to serve simultaneously in the Pa. General Assembly.)
Since he became a federal official, the legislator has backed causes like raising the federal minimum wage to $12 an hour and also railed against Trump.
In 2018, Boyle filed the Standardizing Testing and Accountability Before Large Elections Giving Electors Necessary Information for Unobstructed Selection Act — also known as the STABLE GENIUS Act. Basically, it would ensure a president is fit to lead by requiring they undergo a medical exam by the secretary of the Navy, with results reported publicly.
David Torres (Republican)
David Torres ran for the exact same seat, against the exact same opponent, in 2018. The East Torresdale resident earned 21% of the 2nd District vote that year, and now he’s taking another crack at it.
Torres is a retired sales manager who lost his son three years ago to a fatal opioid overdose. He has said he wants to reevaluate the current resources dedicated to the addiction epidemic and work toward humane immigration reform.
3rd Congressional District (Philadelphia)
Dwight Evans (Democrat, incumbent)
Germantown native Dwight Evans first won his U.S. House seat in 2016, defeating then-indicted incumbent Chaka Fattah. Evans is an alum of a handful of Philly schools: CCP, La Salle and Temple. He worked as an employment counselor at the Urban League of Philadelphia, a Philly public school teacher and a Pa. representative for a few decades.
In Congress, Evans introduced a bill to ban Confederate monuments on federal property. He’s also served as a member of the Congressional Black Caucus and the Congressional Progressive Caucus.
Michael Harvey (Republican)
West Philadelphia native Michael Harvey is vying for the 3rd District seat after working for 15 years as a paralegal. The Temple alum is a veteran of the Navy and the Air Force, plus he’s a block captain and a 60th Ward committeeperson.
4th Congressional District (Most of Montgomery and parts of Berks County)
Madeleine Dean (Democrat, incumbent)
Democratic U.S. Rep. Madeleine Dean is the incumbent, electected in 2018 during an electoral wave that brought four Democratic women into power in the suburbs around Philadelphia.
Dean, 61, had a career in law, then as a professor at LaSalle University, her alma mater. After serving as a commissioner for Abington Township, she won a special election in 2012 and served in the state legislature until her successful campaign for Congress. During her tenure, she’s had assignments on the Judiciary and Financial Services committees. She is a member of the progressive caucus, as well as the caucus on women’s issues.
Dean, the youngest of seven siblings, grew up in Glenside in Montgomery County. Her political career started at 18, when she was elected to serve as a local committeeperson.
Kathy Barnette (Republican)
Challenger Barnette is new to electoral politics. She won the GOP primary in June, and is running as a staunchly conservative alternative to the Democratic Party leadership of the House.
Kathy Barnette, 48, was born on a farm in rural Alabama, was the first member of her family to graduate from college at Troy State before going on to earn a master’s. She served for 10 years in the U.S. Army Reserve, has worked as an adjunct professor and political commentator (appearing regularly on Fox News), and is a vocal supporter of President Trump. She recently published her first book “Nothing to Lose, Everything to Gain: Being Black and Conservative in America.” She is homeschooling her two children in Lower Moreland.
Barnette is the first African American woman to be endorsed by the Montgomery County Republican Committee in a house race.
Joe Tarshish (Independent)
Running as an Independent, Joe Tarshish is framing himself as a moderate at a time when party politics have become increasingly polarized. In terms of issues, Tarsish’s campaign site lays out a raft of progressive policy goals, including broad criminal justice reform, cannabis legalization, and expanded access to abortion and reproductive health services, among others.
5th District (Delaware County and parts of Chester and Philadelphia counties)
Mary Gay Scanlon (Democrat, incumbent)
Mary Gay Scanlon is seeking her second full term. She took over Pat Meehan’s seat in 2018 after it was revealed he used taxpayer money to settle a sexual harassment case.
Scanlon graduated from Penn with a law degree, and focused on public interest law throughout her career. She has coordinated free legal services for people with low incomes, and worked as an attorney at the Education Law Center.
In Congress, Scanlon has supported universal pre-K and marijuana decriminalization. She stopped short of backing a federal $15 minimum wage, calling it an eventual “goal, but I do think we need to be careful and probably stage it.”
Dasha Pruett (Republican)
Dasha Pruett defeated lifelong-Democrat-turned-Trump-voter Rob Jordan in the Republican primary. Pruett moved to the U.S. from Russia when she was just 10 years old — and has used this as a catalyst for her political career. After being raised in a socialist country, the Drexel Hill resident has built her entire platform around rejecting socialism.
She cites upholding the Second Amendment and halting funding to Planned Parenthood among her top priorities. On Facebook, Pruett shares memes advocating to “make Delco great again” and reopen society amid the coronavirus pandemic.
6th Congressional District (Chester County and part of Berks County)
Chrissy Houlahan (Democrat, Incumbent)
Elected in 2018 after the state’s previous district maps were deemed an unconstitutional gerrymander, Houlahan was one of the four Democratic women elected from the redrawn collar counties around Philadelphia and the Lehigh Valley. Since coming into office she’s been assigned to committees handling security and intelligence, foreign affairs, and small business.
Houlahan’s father and grandfather fled the Holocaust in Europe. Her dad flew anti-submarine planes in the Navy, and the family moved around military bases during her childhood. Houlahan went to Stanford on an ROTC scholarship, and went on to serve as an officer in the Air Force for three years before transitioning to the Air Force Reserves. She also earned a master’s degree from MIT. Afterward, she had a successful career in business with her husband before pivoting to teach chemistry for a year in North Philadelphia with Teach for America. From there she went on to lead an education nonprofit focused on literacy.
Houlahan lives in Devon in Chester County and has two adult daughters.
John Emmons (Republican)
New London Township resident John Emmons has a long background as a chemical engineer, eventually going on to direct operations at several large plants in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. He’s hoping that experience solving complex problems and working with sprawling organizations can be effectively brought to bear in Congress.
Emmons grew up on a farm in a small town in New York state, going on to earn his undergraduate degree from SUNY-Buffalo before beginning his career. He’s been active in politics since 2007, drawn in by frustration with federal spending. However, this is his first time running for a House seat. He and his wife have three children.
Emmons is campaigning on a traditional Republican set of policies, including shrinking the size of government, expanding the economy by lessening regulations and red tape, and restrictive reforms to the immigration system.
John McHugh (Independent)
Small business owner John McHugh is running as an independent. He currently serves as township supervisor in Honey Brook in Chester County. McHugh is an avid athlete and sports coach. He served in the U.S. Marine Corps.
Philadelphia Ballot Questions
Philadelphia voters will get to weigh in on four ballot questions this year, some of which seek authorization to take action while others make changes to the Philadelphia Home Rule Charter, which is kind of like the city’s constitution. Read about each question in-depth:
- Should Philly abolish ‘stop and frisk’ — and would it make a difference?
- Should Philly City Hall have its own office to advocate for crime victims?
- Should the city revamp its “beyond toothless” police oversight commission?
- Should Philly borrow $134 million to fund transit, parks and sanitation?
Your go-to election coverage
Cory Booker (Democrat, incumbent)
The former Newark mayor is running for his second full term in the U.S. Senate after a failed presidential bid this year, which upped Booker’s already significant name recognition.
During his time in the upper chamber, Booker helped get bipartisan criminal justice legislation, the First Step Act, signed into law. He also played a key role in the confirmation hearing of current Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.
Booker is among the most well-known Democrats in New Jersey and has the overwhelming support of the party. He won the 2014 election against Republican Jeff Bell by more than 13 percentage points.
Rik Mehta (Republican)
Rik Mehta is a pharmacist and lawyer who worked as a consumer safety officer at the Food and Drug Administration. The son of Indian immigrants, Mehta has criticized illegal immigration and slammed so-called “sanctuary cities.”
Mehta recently thrust himself into the public spat between Atilis Gym in Bellmawr and Gov. Phil Murphy, whose COVID-19 directives required gyms to be closed for months as the state got a handle on its outbreak. The owners reopened their gym anyway, filed a lawsuit against the state, and were ultimately arrested. Mehta set up a campaign headquarters in the gym in August.
2nd Congressional District
Jeff Van Drew (Republican, incumbent)
Jeff Van Drew is the incumbent running for a second term in the state’s sprawling 2nd Congressional District, with one big difference since he took the seat in 2018: his political party.
The longtime state legislator and former dentist easily won his race two years ago as a conservative Democrat. But later he was one of just two House Democrats to vote against impeaching President Trump, Van Drew decided to take the rare political step of switching parties. He announced he was defecting to the GOP during an Oval Office press conference where he pledged his “undying support” to Trump.
In Van Drew’s favor is the fact that this seat was held by Republican Frank LoBiondo for more than two decades before he retired in 2018, and the district remains purple. But many voters say they feel betrayed by Van Drew’s party switch, and his opponent will use the Trump connection to marshall Democratic votes against him.
Amy Kennedy (Democrat)
Yes, a Kennedy. Amy Kennedy is married to former Rhode Island U.S. Rep. Patrick Kennedy, the son of the late Massachusetts U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy. The family lives in Brigantine.
Kennedy is a former middle school teacher and mental health advocate. This is her first foray into politics. She received the backing of Gov. Phil Murphy in the primary, and managed to beat her best-funded opponent, Brigid Harrison, a political science professor who had the backing of the South Jersey Democratic power broker George Norcross.
The political newcomer is now top of the ticket in what has become a nationally watched contest. Democrats will want to score a victory over a party-flipper endorsed by Trump, so expect this race to heat up as November approaches.
Jesse Ehrnstrom (Libertarian)
Ehrnstrom describes himself as a “regular guy who is ready to see change in the nation I love.” The 27-year old is a supervisor at the Lidl grocery store in Lacey Township.
Jenna Harvey (Justice, Mercy, Humility)
Harvey describes herself as “a Millennial Mom fed up with the bickering in Washington.” She proposes taxing companies that don’t pay employees a living wage and providing “universal preventative and emergency health care.”
3rd Congressional District
Andy Kim (Democrat, Incumbent)
Andy Kim, a former national security aide to President Obama, is hoping to win a second term in the U.S. House of Representatives. He defeated two-term Republican incumbent Tom MacArthur in 2018. He currently serves on the Armed Services and Small Business committees and the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis.
Since he began his term in January 2019, Kim has sponsored 23 bills; three of them have moved to the U.S. Senate including a bill entitled the VA Overpayment Accountability Act that would help some veterans with errors in their credit report because they receive benefits from the Veterans Affairs Department, among other things. He is also listed as a co-sponsor of more than 400 bills or resolutions.
Kim, who worked under the Bush and Obama administrations, says he has done everything to be responsive to his constituents, including hosting dozens of town halls.
While Democrats have the edge in voter registration in New Jersey overall, “unaffiliated” or independent voters are the majority in the 3rd Congressional District. As of Oct. 1, independent voters outnumber Democrats by more than 22,000 registrations and Republicans by more than 37,000. The district includes parts of Burlington and Ocean counties. Democrats have the edge in registrations in Burlington County, but there are more unaffiliated voters in Ocean County.
His original intention was to run in the 1st Congressional District against incumbent Jeff Van Drew. But Van Drew flipped from Democrat to Republican and Richter left the race; endorsing his new party mate on the way out.
The former executive of the construction conglomerate Hill International (that his father founded) still wanted to “flip a blue seat red.” So, Richter decided to set his sights on Andy Kim believing he would be a strong opponent to oust the freshman lawmaker. He has also said that Kim is not a real moderate, pointing to his vote for Nancy Pelosi to be Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives (despite saying he wanted different leadership) and his being part of the Progressive Caucus. Kim counters that he is a member of several caucuses; many of them bipartisan.
Richter is a Burlington County native and has degrees from the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Oxford and Harvard University, but he has never held political office.
Martin Weber (independent)
Weber is an Army veteran and businessman from Barnegat. He is a big advocate for veterans and a critic of the way the VA delivers health care. He also supports legalizing recreational marijuana, making solar installation mandatory for new construction as part of building codes, and term limits for federal judges.
Robert Shapiro (Independent Constitutional Candidate)
Shapiro is a lawyer from Haddonfield, who does not appear to have a campaign website. He has run for office in the past as a Republican or Libertarian. He promises to safeguard Social Security, make English the official language of the U.S. and “hold China accountable” for the damage done to the U.S. by COVID-19.
Question: Do you approve amending the New Jersey Constitution to legalize a controlled form of marijuana called “cannabis”?
Democratic lawmakers in New Jersey have been trying to legalize marijuana for years but had to call off a vote as recently as March 2019 over a lack of support in the legislature. They decided instead to put the question directly to voters, and polls have shown that a majority of residents support legalizing cannabis. If the question passes, recreational marijuana will be regulated by a state commission and subject to the state sales tax. Eleven states and Washington, D.C. have also legalized recreational marijuana. New Jersey only allows the sale of marijuana for medical use.
Tax deduction for peacetime vets
Question: Do you approve amending the New Jersey Constitution to give a $250 property tax deduction to veterans who did not serve in time of war? Do you also approve amending the Constitution to give a 100% property tax exemption to certain totally disabled veterans who did not serve in time of war?
This would make two property tax benefits that are currently only available to war veterans also available to members of the military who served during peacetime. If passed, it would amend the state constitution to give peacetime veterans a $250 property tax deduction. It would also give veterans who became disabled during peacetime military service a 100% property tax exemption, as long as they do not live in a continuing care retirement community. When the veteran dies, both benefits would extend to their widow or widower.
Redistricting delay due to U.S. Census
Question: Do you approve amending the New Jersey Constitution to change when new legislative districts are created if the federal census data is delayed?
Federal officials say the coronavirus pandemic may delay the results of this year’s U.S. Census. The data was expected early next year, but now it is unclear when it will arrive. Because that data is used to redraw legislative maps — what’s called redistricting — any delay could cause problems for New Jersey’s state legislative races next fall. This question is the solution devised by Democrats in the state legislature: if the Census results are delayed, put off redistricting by two years. Opponents include Republicans and voting rights groups, who say it would be a permanent solution to a one-time problem and disenfranchise all of the state’s new residents who moved in since the last round of redistricting a decade ago.
John Carney (Democrat, incumbent)
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 an uprising 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.
When it comes to how he has handled the pandemic, 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 [while] making decisions to keep Delawareans safe [in] unprecedented territory with no playbook,” he said at a recent voters’ forum.
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.
Julianne Murray (Republican)
Republican attorney Julianne Murray’s campaign has focused almost exclusively on the past six months and Gov. John 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.
Like many of her fellow Republican challengers, Murray accuses the incumbent Carney of being a “career politician” who has lost touch with voters.
Kathy DeMatteis (Independent Party of Delaware) and John Machurek (Libertarian) are also on the ballot.
Chris Coons (Democrat, incumbent)
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. Coons won his primary contest against progressive challenger Jess Scarane with 73% of the vote.
Coons has touted his efforts to reach across the aisle. He was even described as the GOP’s favorite Democrat in the Senate. Coons has served 10 years in Washington. He is currently on the Senate Judiciary Committee, where he has been in the middle of contentious confirmation battles over Supreme Court nominees.
During 2020, he says he’s been focusing on having his office help Delawareans deal with the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. “My phone has been ringing off the hook, people have reached out to my office by text, by email, by phone,” Coons said. “I have never had as much constituent contact or as many reasons to work hard and help people as I have in the last six months.”
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.
Lauren Witzke (Republican)
Witzke, who is running for office for the first time, 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. She also 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.
Witzke defeated James DeMartino in the GOP primary, even though he was the state party’s endorsed candidate.
When Witzke and Coons squared off at a voter forum in mid-September shortly after the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, 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.
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.
Mark Turley (Independent Party) and Nadine Frost (Libertarian) are also on the ballot.
Delaware Congressional District (whole state)
Lisa Blunt Rochester (Democrat, incumbent)
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.
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.
Recently, Blunt Rochester introduced legislation to increase the availability of telehealth, citing it as vital during the COVID-19 pandemic. She also introduced a bill that would connect communities of color with community-based organizations to create better access to trauma-informed, culturally competent mental and behavioral health services.
Lee Murphy (Republican)
Lee Murphy is 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 dot 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.
Catherine Purcell (Independent Party) and David Rogers (Libertarian) are also on the ballot.
Trinidad Navarro (Democrat, incumbent)
Trinidad Navarro is running for a second term as Delaware’s insurance commissioner. 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.”
Julia Pillsbury (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.