Posted: June 1, 2012


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

Just when the Delaware Republicans looked like they could make inroads in the state Senate, forget about it.

The Democrats found a place to turn it around and force the Republicans to defend the meager holdings they have now. Even in politics, the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.

The place is the 12th Senate District, an elongated stretch going southwards from Old New Castle along the Delaware River through Delaware City and finally descending below the canal.

The district has been represented by someone named Connor for 32 years. Dori Connor, 65, from Penn Acres, has been there since 1997, when she won the seat in a special election after the death of her husband Bob Connor, who went to the Senate in 1980.

Dori Connor, like her husband before her, is a Republican, but this is no Republican district. More than half of the registered voters are Democrats. Connor has kept it as a pro-labor Republican, and really, the Democrats have just left her alone. No Democrat has run against her since since 2000.

Circumstances change. The Republicans went into this election year with designs on making a run at the majority in the 21-member Senate. Even though they have been in the minority for 40 years, even though they are down now by 14-7, there was a legitimate possibility they could take over.

The Republicans were banking on getting some well-placed Democratic retirements and picking up seats newly competitive because of redistricting. It also went without saying they had to hold all the seats they have.

Instead, the Republicans were stung by a retirement of their own from Liane Sorenson, the Senate minority whip. It killed the Republicans' momentum, and now the Democrats are taking it to the Republicans by recruiting a candidate to run against Connor.

In a turnaround, the Republicans could find themselves no longer striving for the majority but struggling not to fall even farther into the minority.

"We feel the pressure," said Patti Blevins, the Senate's Democratic majority leader. "We all love Dori, but politics is politics. There are only 11 absolutely safe Democratic districts. Unfortunately for her, this is one of them."

The Democratic candidate is Nicole Poore, 39, from Barb's Farm near St. Georges Bridge, north of the Chesapeake & Delaware Canal. She has a sense of Legislative Hall from her advocacy for disabled children, including a son, and works at a recruitment agency with international corporations for clients. She has union connections through her husband Bill, a sheet metal worker.

"I have great respect for Dori Connor. I've known her my entire life. It's time for a change. I told her, I hope you've got your running shoes on," Poore said.

Poore was approached to make the race by Valerie Longhurst, the Democratic majority whip in the House of Representatives. They met through Poore's advocacy work.

"The party asked if I knew anybody, and all of a sudden, her name popped into my head. This is going to be a race. I'll tell you what, it could be the biggest upset," Longhurst said.

The Democrats have voter registration on their side and the higher turnout they can customarily expect in a presidential election year, but the Republicans have Dori Connor and her celebrated constituent work.

Connor was not available to talk. Maybe she was out on her constituent work.

Still, the campaign will be fought partially on unfamiliar territory for Connor. Because of redistricting, she picked up voters below the canal for the first time.

"It'll be a competitive race, but I truly don't think Dori is in any trouble. Probably of the 62 legislators in Legislative Hall, nobody has served her constituents better. People's reputations aren't confined to just their district, and her reputation will proceed her," said Gary Simpson, the Senate's Republican minority leader.

There was always the prospect the Democrats would go after Connor if they thought they had to. Now they think they have to, and they are.