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Sam Waltz Viewpoints

Waltz: A new Sen. McBride will change face of Del. politics

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Sam Waltz

Three outcomes from the 2020 Delaware primary election that jumped out at me  – based on nearly a half century of covering and writing about Delaware politics – appear not to have seemed obvious in the initial rounds of press coverage.

A new Sen. McBride

I’ve not met Sarah McBride, an activist who won her District 1 Democratic primary for District 1, but she spoke a few years ago to my Rotary Club of Wilmington. She is articulate, impressive, and ambitious. Her identity as transgender will make her the first in America to be elected to a state’s upper chamber in that minority.

She will be a force to be reckoned with in Delaware, someone who one day may well be governor, a member of Delaware’s Congressional delegation, or perhaps even appear on a national ticket, like Delaware’s own Joe Biden.

Commentators on Delaware politics focused on the three senior legislators who lost their seats – including Senate Pro Tempore David McBride, no relation to Sarah – to decades-younger newcomers who decided “out with the old” rather than wait their turns.

What they missed were the reportedly private discussions that preceded the primary, where McBride let retiring longtime District 1 State Sen. Harris McDowell know that the end of his historic tenure had arrived, and she was there to replace him, backed with national campaign contributions.

He stood aside, she announced, and even the promise of a well-funded very competitive and well-known Republican competitor withered in the face of her inevitability.

Since my arrival in Delaware 45 years ago, I’ve watched a generation of national leaders arrive and stay, among them, Gov. Pierre du Pont IV, U.S. Sens. Tom Carper (whose first campaign in 1976 I covered) and Chris Coons, and, of course, now Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden.

Sarah McBride will be the next to represent Delaware at that level of stature.

Delaware Way not Lost

Delaware’s notoriety for its moderating influence of community known as “the Delaware way” appears to have survived this year’s contest.

After her nomination to the Republican candidacy for U.S. Senate, Lauren Witzke made some inappropriate, even intemperate, QAnon-type social media posts on the passing of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

She immediately was called out, even by members of her party, which took some courage to call out your own ticket leader. And she responded by removing the offending post.

Leading among those was my own State Sen. Anthony Delcollo (R-7th District), now just seeking his second four-year term in a seat long held by a prominent Democratic insider in a swing district. Delcollo is a moderate Republican who is strong on 2nd Amendment issues for Delaware’s mainstream.

That makes Delcollo the kind of Republican who fares well in Delaware, and he’s already well-positioned to be a next generation party leader in the recent tradition of Sens. Greg Lavelle and Charlie Copeland. 

New Marxist Left and Single-Issue Politics

Of course it remains to be seen, but, like the arrival of hard right Republican conservatives who transformed Delaware’s Sussex County politics over the last generation, the arrival in this primary of new Marxist Left successful candidates really sets the stage for a different kind of Delaware politics.

Whether that comes to pass remains to be seen.

Again, as an artifact of its size, in Delaware, even ideologically fringe competitors enjoy some gravitas inside their caucus, including leadership opportunities as well as influence on agendas. Newark Rep. John Kowalko is a generational case in point.

Given the majority status of the Delaware Democrats, watch for meaningful change.

Three issues – based on national agendas that I’ve observed – suggest to me that local debates will become more pointed in the next General Assembly:

  1.  “Trimming some fat” off the Bill of Rights’ 2nd Amendment, an initiative well-funded in Delaware and nationally by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who wants to remake Delaware to be more like his city where only violent predators and private security for well-connected affluent elites are allowed to have guns.
  2.  “The Green New Deal,” the initiative by U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to remake America around a newer values paradigm; and
  3. Higher taxes on wealth and income for those whose work or deployment of family capital have appeared to make them a more affluent target.

 Sam Waltz is the publisher emeritus for Delaware Business Times.

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