Sunday, July 6, 2008

I Want to be Alone, er—Unopposed

Happy Independence Day early. Not July 4th , silly. I am not talking about independence from the King of England .I am talking July 25th ,that is the day possibly tens of incumbent state legislators learn they will have freedom from political opposition .

The last posting mentioned that there were few upsets over the last 14 election cycles and this posting will address part of why that is so. No opposition.

From 1980 to 2006 there were potentially 574 races for the 41 seats in the Delaware House of Representatives. In 213 instances (37.0% of 574) incumbents faced no general election opposition. In 32 (5.6% of 574) instances they faced no opposition from a major party candidate in the general election.

Some of these incumbents faced primaries within their own parties on a fairly regularly basis and occasionally an incumbent was upset during the primary.In the 2nd District in Northeast Wilmington Roark Moore upset another Democrat ,incumbent Al Plant, in 1990 and was beaten by Plant in 1992.Helene Keeley defeated Cas Jonkiert in the 5th Rep District in Southwest Wilmington in the Democratic primary in 1996. Current State Senator David McBride beat incumbent Democrat , Bobby Byrd , currently a lobbyist, in 1978 in what was the 15th District at the time containing Elsmere and areas near Maryland Ave & Banning Park .These few examples spread over 30 years are exceptions to the rule of incumbents winning their party’s primary on the road to re-election. The election department website only tracks primary results back to 1998, so tracking specifics prior to that is based on memory. The website does verify that no incumbent member of the Delaware House of Representatives has been unseated during a party primary from 1998 through 2006, although one member of the Delaware State Senate, Republican Dallas Winslow, was unseated during the 2002 Republican primary.

Since most incumbents make it beyond the party primary, what do they face in November? 37.0% of the time they face no opposition. Combined with the 5.6% of the time they face only 3rd Party opposition, they have no major party opposition 42.6% of the time.

Below is what incumbents have faced in November over the last 14 elections in the Delaware House
2006 - 15 unopposed- 1 -3rd party only
2004 - 19 unopposed- 1-3rd party only
2002 - 18 unopposed- 3-3rd party only
2000 -16 unopposed - 2-3rd party only
1998 - 22 unopposed- 4 -3rd party only
1996 - 9 unopposed- 9-3rd party only
1994 - 18 unopposed- 4-3rd party only
1992 - 13 unopposed- zero- 3rd party only
1990 -21 unopposed- zero –3rd party only
1988 -19 unopposed- 2- 3rd party only
1986 - 14 unopposed- zero-3rd party only
1984 -13 unopposed- 3-3rd party only
1982 - 7 unopposed- 3-3rd party only
1980 -9 unopposed- zero- 3rd party only
There are a lot of reasons for no opposition. There is difficulty raising money and the hard work it takes to build an organization. There is the reality that incumbents have input into designing the district maps, while challengers usually don’t.

In the last post I pointed out that only 2 or 3 times in 574 potential upsets did a challenger unseat an incumbent in the first try. Now we see that in 245 instances out of 574 potential races, incumbents did not face major party opposition in the general election. That means the odds are 80-100 times better that an incumbent will face no serious opposition than be unseated by an untested challenger.

5 of the last ten election cycles and 3 of the last 6 election cycles, at least 21 members of the House faced no major party opposition. So a majority of the 41 member body often has basically a free ride.

Maybe it is not as clearcut as I am suggesting, though. I once congratulated a legislator on having gotten beyond the filing deadline unopposed . Taking nothing for granted,he responded “Not yet, I still have to get that first vote.”

Here is the link to state election commissioner’s website with direct links to the list of filed candidates and the elections archive where I got the numbers mentioned:


Below is a link to the New Castle County Elections Department which offers not only the current list of filed candidates in New Castle County,but also links at the bottom of the page to the filed candidates for 2004 and 2006:


No comments: