Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Delaware's Diminishing Demand for Political Order

I had an interesting conversation on the governor's race with Allan Loudell on WDEL this evening, which gave me reason to ponder the varying reactions to the primary (only 52 weeks to go) between John Carney and Jack Markell.
It seems to me that the prospect of a primary offends some Delawareans' sense of order. Apart from 2000, when voters gently moved an elderly Bill Roth aside in favor of Tom Carper, Delaware hasn't seen a significant upheaval in statewide politics since the 1960s and 1970s. (While two other incumbents have been beaten since then, I would argue that these were cases of enforcing the political order rather than overturning it.)
In 1968, Republican Russ Peterson beat Charles Terry, who had kept National Guard troops in Wilmington longer than any governor anywhere in the U.S. In 1972, Joe Biden upset U.S. Senator Caleb Boggs, and Sherman Tribbitt beat Peterson, who had emerged wounded from an acrimonious primary. In 1976 Tribbitt, who proved to be a poor manager of state finances, was beaten by Pete duPont, setting the stage for a generation of orderly succession at the top of Delaware politics.
The only statewide incumbents to lose in the 1980s and 1990s did so by violating Delaware's rules of political decorum: Congressman Tom Evans, who had shacked up with a lobbyist who had posed for Playboy (you couldn't make this up), was defeated by Tom Carper in 1982. And state treasurer Janet Rzewnicki, whose campaign had through a surrogate accused Carper of beating his wife in 1996 (you couldn't make this up), was punished by voters two years later, losing to Jack Markell, whose slogan that year was "The Delaware Way."
An entire generation of Delaware voters have lived through an era of relatively tidy politics, and are comfortable with an orderly line of succession to the top ranks. But an increasing number of voters didn't live through the untidy 1970s, and thus don't understand the tidy impulses of Carper and the party leadership. Those who have grown up since, or have moved to Delaware in recent years (a sizable number in Sussex County), don't understand why the party leadership seems so intent on avoiding a primary.
This partially explains what I see as a generational split among voters: Those 50 and older, who came of political age in the 1970s or earlier, are more likely to support Carney. Those 40 and younger, who have known nothing but this neat and tidy era of Delaware politics, are more likely to support Markell. With more young voters coming of age, and more moving to Delaware, we are seeing a diminishing demand for the orderly politics of the last thirty years.

6 Comments:

Anonymous kavips said...

From the point of view of a strategist, it seems a waste that you have two persons, each capable of stomping Castle, blow it on fighting among themselves, thereby forfeiting the Congressional seat to a republican, and because of a bitter primary, perhaps the governorship as well.

4:47 AM, September 12, 2007  
Anonymous Nancy Willing said...

Good news for democracy:
Carney has accepted the Young DEM's invitation to speak to their group.
Good on ya John!

9:38 AM, September 12, 2007  
Anonymous Nancy said...

I got onto Pete duPont's wiki site yesterday after googling John Daniello + primary + 1970 (inspired by all of the DE Grapevine chatter).

Looking at the "charts of state house power" during Pete's political career is, er, informational, to say the least.

9:53 AM, September 12, 2007  
Anonymous jason330 said...

I got here in 1975 so this all makes sense to me. Nice analysis HOWEVER...

I know I will be accused of viewing everything through this one lens, but don't you think George Bush and the hijacking of the National Republican party by men bent on evil stirred things up a bit?

The Rovian influences here led Dave Crossan to run a nasty (unDelawarean) campaign against an Biden (gasp!) And on the D side - I know there is strong desire to eviserate Castle on the grounds that he is the only Bush lacky representing a blue state.

7:54 PM, September 12, 2007  
Blogger TommyWonk said...

Jason, your comments lead to a significant point that I did not discuss: Delaware, which had been considered a bellweather state for decades, has turned reliably blue in recent elections.

9:31 PM, September 12, 2007  
Anonymous Nancy Willing said...

Kavips, why haven't any top DEMs told Carney to make the run against Castle?

I think that if the g'damned DE DEM party collapsed over a primary and loses the governer's seat we will demand a complete changeover of those on the top.

I certainly do not expect that the primary is going to be that rough.
Nor do I think that these men are of the charactor to despoil the general election out of spite.

12:35 AM, September 13, 2007  

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