Crane: Unless Democrats build party blue Delaware could turn red

July 23, 2013

There’s talk, nationally, of Texas - once considered the reddest of Republican red states - turning blue; such is the demographic imperative of the Latino vote.

Mitch Crane, the new chair of the Sussex County Democratic Committee, fears something similar could happen in Delaware - in reverse. Delaware, of course, is now thoroughly dominated by blue Democrats. They control both houses of the state Legislature and all the statewide offices save one - state auditor, not exactly the center of political power.

But the political winds could change, said Crane, who last year barely lost a four-way statewide primary to be the Democratic nominee for insurance commissioner. (He won in Sussex.)

“By the next census it is very likely that a majority of the people of Delaware will be below the canal,” he said. “And the census after that they [the majority] may very well be in Sussex.”

It’s not going to happen overnight. Crane is referring to the 2020 and 2030 censuses. But Democrats can’t be complacent.

“If the Democratic Party doesn’t build in Sussex,” Crane said, “they may start losing statewide elections.”

He listed three reasons Democrats have lost their once powerful position in Sussex County. First, the coastal area, particularly the 38th District around Bethany Beach, has seen an influx of people from the Washington, D.C. suburbs, who vote mostly Republican.

Second, Republicans have successfully grasped onto “cultural issues” - such as gun laws - to influence voters.

And third, the Democratic Party itself has been weak. “There’s been no planning, no education,” he said. “There hasn’t even been a vision of what our goals are and how we get to them.”

Crane, who got his start in elective politics serving three terms on the West Chester, Pa. council, plans to change that. He’s already been recruiting candidates for the 2014 elections.

“That was the first thing I started doing. I’ve been working on candidate recruitment from day one,” he said. “I think some of our candidates last year would have won if they had started earlier.”

To that end, he said he has some candidates who will be filing their financial committee forms soon; others will be rolling out their campaigns before the end of the year.

All the candidates are receiving training in running for political office.

Crane didn’t want to announce all his objectives but, he said, “Obvious goals are there.”

He would, for example, like Democrats to take back control of Sussex County Council. Currently, only one of the five council members, Joan Deaver, the Third District councilwoman who represents the Lewes-Milton-Milford region, is a Democrat.

Other goals include picking up a couple of House seats, keeping Sen. Robert Venables’ seat and perhaps adding another Senate seat.

Democrats now hold two of the nine Sussex County House seats and one of five Senate seats.

“And to win back the row offices,” said Crane. “There’s no reason why the next sheriff should not be a Democrat.”

In addition to building the local Democratic Party, Crane said he is partnering with the state party. One of the reasons the 2010 Christine O’Donnell wave was so strong here was that statewide candidates ignored Sussex County. He said that kept local Democrats from winning elections.

“That’s not going to happen again,” he said.

He’s also optimistic because cultural issues aren’t likely to be as important in next year’s election.

“The LGBT [Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender] issues are, I think, probably now gone. The world will not end by next November … when gays have married and transgender people are allowed to get health insurance. And the voters who were concerned about it are going to see no changes … That won’t an issue.”

The other big cultural issue is guns. Guns “are probably the most important issue to voters down here,” said Crane, adding that legislators tell him they get more complaints about gun control than any other issue. But he doesn’t expect a gun bill to come before next year’s Legislature.

Naturally, good candidates and good organizations aren’t enough.

A party needs to articulate issues that are important to voters, the number one issue being jobs.

Crane said he recalls seeing, every election year, a Republican candidate put his signs up by the roadside with a simple message: “Jobs, Jobs, Jobs.” Not that he ever sponsored legislation that would help deliver those jobs, Crane said.

Democrats, on the other hand, not only have to talk about jobs, but how they can make bring them to Sussex County, he said. Another issue he cited was Sussex County’s lack of a four-year college, unlike both Kent and New Castle.

Crane said there is one more thing the Democrats have going for them: “The Sussex County Democratic Committee is united.”

  • A number of accomplished writers will be appearing in the Politics column every Tuesday on a rotating basis to explore the dynamic world of politics at the local, county, state, national and world levels.

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