Monday, October 27, 2008

The 35th Rep District: Is it a Red District in a Blue State?

I am thinking Aaron Chaffinch has an uphill climb as the Democratic candidate for the 35th Representative District. The state representative seat is an open seat with the retirement of the current incumbent, Republican Ben Ewing, who has held the seat since 1987. Chaffinch is opposed by Dave Wilson, the current Sussex County Register of Wills, who has been elected 3 times countywide and has Ewing’s endorsement.

The 35th Representative District encompasses Bridgeville, Greenwood and some rural areas west of Georgetown. It has a Democratic registration edge (5,122 Democrats, 4,487 Republicans and 2,593 Others as of 10-1-2008) . In some places 2008 is perceived to be a Democratic year. However, a review of some numbers from the Election Commissioner’s website say it might not be a Democratic year in the 35th this year.

The two primaries held this year indicate that in the 35th District the Republican voters appear to be more energized than the Democrats. Below are the turnout numbers.

The presidential primary in Feb 2008 saw a 38% turnout statewide in the Democratic primary, but only a 27.6 % turnout in the 35th. In the Republican presidential primary there was a 28.0% turnout both statewide and in the 35th.

In the September statewide primary Democrats had a 27.8% turnout,but only a 23.1% turnout in the 35th. The Republicans had a 16% turnout statewide in the Sept 2008 primary, but the 35th had a 24.4% turnout. Five of seven election districts were involved in either the Sussex County Council District 2 or District 3 races to nominate the Republican candidates so these local races may have skewed primary turnout somewhat, but it still shows some energy since people went to the polls.

This is nominally a swing district. In 2004 Ruth Ann Minner (D) lost to Bill Lee (R ) by 1063 votes for Governor, while in the Lt Governor’s race John Carney (D ) won by 615 votes. In 2006 Beau Biden ( D ) lost to Ferris Wharton ( R ) in the Attorney General race in the 35th by 248, while Tom Carper ( D ) beat Jan Ting ( R ) by 2624 to 1439 in the US Senate race.

This is not an average Delaware swing district though. If you do further investigation on the Election Commissioner’s website, you learn that in the 35th District , Christine O’Donnell, who had lost the Senate GOP primary in Sept 2006 and intentionally positioned herself as the most conservative candidate in the Senate race as a write-in in 2006 , received 896 write-in votes in the 35th District. O’Donnell received 11,127 write-in votes statewide. 8.1% of her statewide total came out of the 35th District. As of 10-13-2006 the 35th represented 11, 518 of the state’s 557,703 or 2.1 % of all voters. A district that accounted for about one out of fifty voters statewide also accounted for about one out of every 12 votes cast by write-in for the most conservative candidate campaigning. This district was not only much more likely to vote conservative, they were committed enough to what they valued to take the extra steps write-in voting entails.

If he is looking for coattails at the top of the ticket from the Obama-Biden presidential ticket, he may not find it in the 35th District. In 2004 George W Bush ( R )crushed John Kerry (D ) 4581- 2440. The last time Joe Biden was on the ballot in 2002, he won his Senate re-election bid with 58.2% statewide. Joe Biden lost the 35th District to Ray Clatworthy 2499 to 2093. On top of this, Barack Obama lost the presidential primary to Hillary Clinton in the 35th by a 668-593 margin despite winning the statewide primary with 53.3% , so there may not be total party unanimity among Democrats.

Chaffinch’s puzzle strategically is how to run conservative enough to not totally alienate what appears to be a fairly energized conservative base without veering so far to the right he convinces whatever moderate to liberal voters that exist there that he is no different than the Republican candidate and they avoid the race altogether.

The News-Journal profile of the race appears to indicate both candidates are focusing more on constituent services and issues not necessarily owned by either the conservative or liberal camp like open government , education, senior services and public safety rather than focusing on obviously polarizing issues like abortion or gun control. Chaffinch’s finance report and the News-Journal article indicate he has ties to State Senator Thurman Adams, the senate president pro tempore who has represented the area in the Senate since 1972. Possibly with intense voter contact ( mailing & door-to-door) and Adams’ goodwill (if Adams continues to be perceived to be responsive to his constituents) , Chaffinch can make enough in roads to win.
As usual, I am not endorsing anyone (and have never even met either of these particular candidates), just trying to see if the numbers from the past can give us a hint of what will happen in the future.
I am thinking Wilson is more likely to win.

News-Journal profile of the race:

State Election Commissioner's website:

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