Sometimes an election can be like a Rorschach test. It takes a little bit of staring to figure out what is in there.
There are times when patterns emerge. This election, for example, is part of a pattern called the “Six-Year Itch.” It falls in the sixth year of a two-term presidency, and the party that holds the White House almost always gets clobbered as the electorate gets itchy, although Bill Clinton and the Democrats beat the odds in 1998. (Moral: Do not monkey around with impeachment just because the president was monkeying around.)
There are elections that are historic only in the rear-view mirror, like the one in 1856 that turned out to be the last time a Whig ran for president, and there are elections that are just downright strange, like the one in 2000 that left the whole country hanging because of hanging chads in Florida.
Delaware also gets its share of stuff happening when people go to the polls.
There can be elections that make history, like the one in 2012 that gave Tom Carper a record-setting 13th statewide win as a Democratic senator, governor, congressman and treasurer, and there can be elections that make trivia, like the one in 2010 that gave the state the only congressional delegation to have the last names of all of the members—Carper, Chris Coons and John Carney—start with the same letter.
Before a single ballot is cast, there is already a lot of stuff happening at home in the 2014 election. Here goes:
Delaware is in the midst of a streak of Joe or Beau or even double Bidens, but it is about to stop—or, at least, pause—after 42 years.
Joe Biden was elected as a Democrat to the U.S. Senate in 1972, and there he stayed until he gave up statewide office to be sworn in as the vice president for Barack Obama in 2009. No other Delawarean has ever been in public office for such a long stretch, going all the way back to the 1970 campaign that put him on the New Castle County Council.
Beau Biden followed his father into the family calling by getting elected in 2006 as the Democratic attorney general, but he has decided to take a breather from politics, rather than run for a third term this year. A couple of serious health scares and a year in Iraq with the National Guard can have that kind of effect.
So the 2014 election leaves Joe Biden in national office and Beau Biden on the sidelines and no Biden in statewide office.
Beau Biden is saying he will be back to run for governor in 2016, when Jack Markell, the Democrat who has the office now, bumps up against the two-term limit. Joe Biden is not saying anything so certain about his plans for 2016, when Obama cannot run for president but Hillary Clinton can.
It means the 2016 election could conceivably bring an end to a Biden in office, any office, but, alternatively, it could hurtle the family name forward in politics without a break since that county council race so long ago.
Funny thing about that U.S. Senate seat occupied by Joe Biden and now by Coons, a Democrat up for election this year. They both got there right out of New Castle County government, so call it a new
definition of a “county seat.” Who knew?
Neither of them was supposed to win.
Biden ran as a 29-year-old upstart, a rookie county councilman who was never regarded as a threat to Caleb Boggs, a beloved Republican senator and past governor. That was the problem. Biden’s signature-gathering campaign was not taken seriously by the Republicans until it was too late.
Coons, tucked away as the county executive, was given no chance against Mike Castle, considered a shoo-in for senator after decades as a Republican congressman and ex-governor. Except the election turned into Alice-in-Wonderland-meets-the-Wizard-of-Oz. Castle was waylaid by a mad Tea Party, opening the way for Coons to take out Christine O’Donnell, a Republican who became the most famous non-witch since Dorothy.
There is a saying—if a Senate nomination is open, take it, because stuff can happen, or at least it can happen in Delaware to candidates who otherwise appear stuck in county office.
Quick! Who are Ralph Williams, Mike Miller, Paul Donnelly and Karen Hartley-Nagle?
Good question. They are part of a long line of forgettable candidates demolished decade after decade at the polls by Carper and Castle, who were nothing short of unbeatable, each as the state’s lone congressman.
John Carney is the Democratic congressman now, and guess what? Nothing has changed. He is drawing the same sort of opponents as Carper and Castle did.
Carney is running for a third term in 2014, and the Republicans first put up Glen Urquhart, a developer living in Rehoboth Beach, then Tom Kovach, the New Castle County Council president at the time, and now Rose Izzo, a serial candidate who lost primaries to both Urquhart and Kovach.
Urquhart has left the state. Kovach has left politics. Izzo is all the Republicans have left.