Posted: April 23, 2003
ONE COUNTY, TWO COUNTIES, BLUE
COUNTY, RED COUNTIES
By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer
The political map of the United States is
drawn by convention in two colors. The states that vote Republican
in the presidential contest are red. The states that vote Democratic
Florida was sort of purple for 36 days in
2000, but with an assist from the U.S. Supreme Court, it eventually
went red for George W. Bush as the blue for Albert Gore Jr. faded
Delaware was a blue state in 2000, the first
time since 1948 it was not the color of the president's party,
ending its bragging rights to a streak of 12 elections in which it
was a bellwether for the nation.
Delaware blue, however, is something of a
camouflage for what is happening here politically.
Just as there are red and blue states,
Delaware has red and blue counties. In recent years, in elections
where it counts, New Castle County is Democratic blue, and Kent
County and Sussex County are Republican red.
With almost two-thirds of all voters living in
New Castle County, the state's northernmost locality emerges as an
electoral blue gorilla in the customary upstate/downstate divide.
Delaware politics sounds like something out of
Dr. Seuss -- not quite the One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish
of the late children's writer, but One County, Two Counties, Blue
County, Red Counties.
If the state has lost its bellwether
status in presidential elections, it has become representative of
the country in another way, reflecting the political split between
urban/suburban and rural constituencies.
"This is happening all over the United States.
Democrats are getting the urban and suburban vote, and the
Republicans are getting everybody else. If you fly over the United
States at night in a satellite, where the lights are is where the
Democrats are," said Edward E. "Ted" Kaufman, a former chief aide to
U.S. Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. and a past Democratic national
committeeman who has taught politics for 12 years at Duke University
School of Law.
Delaware politics clearly is not what is used
to be. For about the last 30 years, the voters were blithe
ticket-splitters, hop-scotching down the ballot with a predilection
to land on incumbents.
Nowhere was it more obvious than in the U.S.
Senate elections, where the electorate kept William V. Roth Jr., the
Republican, and Biden, the Democrat, together in office for term
after term, often making a mockery of presidential coattails. Roth
was re-elected in 1976 when the state voted for Democrat Jimmy
Carter for president, and Biden did the same in 1984 as the voters
went with Republican Ronald Reagan.
As the 20th Century gave way, a new trend
seemed to appear. Democrat Jack A. Markell beat a troubled
Republican incumbent for state treasurer in 1998. Democrat Thomas R.
Carper moved from governor to senator by ousting Roth in 2000.
Democrat Carl Schnee came within 7,000 votes of dumping Republican
Attorney General M. Jane Brady in 2002 -- and probably would have if
the Green Party's Vivian A. Houghton had not siphoned off more than
Markell did it the old-fashioned way, winning
in all three counties, but Carper and Schnee are evidence of the
blue-county-red-counties dynamic. Carper rolled over Roth in New
Castle County but lost Kent and Sussex. Schnee came out of New
Castle County with a lead, but Brady made it up downstate.
The same pattern manifested itself in the 2000
presidential vote here. Gore clobbered Bush in New Castle County,
but Bush carried Kent and Sussex.
It all looks like so much handwriting on the
wall to Republicans, and the ink is blue.
"We will not elect another statewide
Republican who is not an incumbent for a long time -- unless George
Bush turns out to be the next George Washington," said Glenn C.
Kenton, a Republican strategist who was the secretary of state from
1977 to 1985 for Gov. Pierre S. du Pont.
Both Kenton and Kaufman chalk up the new trend
to the changing nature of the electorate.
In New Castle County, for example, where
Brandywine Hundred was once full of Du Pont Co. families who voted
reliably Republican, Kaufman nows call that region "persuadable."
Kenton says it is because the DuPont retirees are dying or moving,
replaced by younger, two-income families who tend to vote
"New Castle County in voting behavior and
demographics looks like eastern Pennsylvania, and the demographics
continue to march," Kenton said.
In contrast, Kenton and Kaufman regard Kent
County and Sussex County as more southern in their politics, and the
South is a sea of red states.
The voter registration rolls for the 2002
election were telling. The farther south you went, the better off
the Republicans were:
--Of the state's 519,816 voters, 43 percent
were Democrats, 34 percent were Republicans, and 23 percent were
--In New Castle County, where there were
338,475 voters, they were 45 percent Democratic, 32 percent
Republican and 23 percent others.
--In Kent County, where there were 77,976
voters, they were 41 percent Democratic, 34 percent Republican and
25 percent others.
--In Sussex County, where there were 103,365
voters, there was virtual parity between the two major parties,
separated by roughly 1,500 voters. The Democrats were 40 percent of
the electorate, the Republicans 39 percent and the others 21
Priscilla B. Rakestraw, the Republican
national committeewoman, raises a stubborn counterargument,
insisting that Delaware still is the swing state it has been. "It
looks like a Democratic state because the same people have been in
office for a long period of time. Delaware is given to cycles, and
Delaware gets attached to incumbents," she said.
Kaufman says no. "This is a Democratic state
now. That doesn't mean a Republican can't win, but that's going to
be the exception," he said.
If the Republicans have any reason for
optimism, it lies in their strong turnout. In the 2002 election,
they out-hustled the Democrats in every county.
In New Castle County, Republicans got out 48
percent of their voters while the Democrats got out 44 percent of
theirs. In Kent County, 49 percent of the Republicans voted,
compared to 44 percent of the Democrats. In Sussex County, a
whopping 57 percent of the Republicans voted, while 51 percent of
the Democrats did.
The Sussex Republican turnout not only was key
in saving Brady in the attorney general's race but also defeated two
Democratic state representatives. "Sussex was the story in this
election. It was striking," said Joseph A. Pika, a political science
professor at the University of Delaware.
While demographics often are destiny, other
forces also are at play. Kenton believes there is a way for William
Swain Lee, who is expected to be the Republican candidate for
governor, to defeat Democrat Ruth Ann Minner when she runs for a
second term in 2004 -- if there is a strong Republican turnout, if
Minner struggles and if Bush is enormously popular.
That said, turnout tends to go the Democrats'
way in a presidential year. Still, a Republican can't just throw in
the towel, can he?
"I did," Kenton said.
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