Republicans did not fare well in Delaware’s Nov. 8 election.
Democrats widened their majority in the state Senate, maintained the balance of power in the House, and won every election for statewide elected offices.
In the wake of the Republican wallop, some party leaders are hoping the party will begin to move in a more productive direction — one that appeals to the center, defined by a clearly communicated, positive vision for the First State.
Without change, some insiders fear Republicans will lose influence with each passing election.
“I believe we are not good at messaging and making sure people know what we do on a daily basis to serve our constituencies,” said Rep. Mike Ramone, R-Pike Creek South.
He was elected House minority leader after a two-hour caucus meeting Tuesday.
“We enable ourselves to be branded by whatever polarizing national topic exists at any given moment,” he said.
Ramone’s ascension to leadership marks a departure from the Delaware Republican Party’s strategy up to this point.
Rep. Danny Short, R-Seaford, served as minority leader for nearly 10 years before caucus members decided the time was right for a change.
“If there’s a message that I hope resonates within our party, it’s that we don’t all need to think exactly alike on every single item, but at this point, our state needs help economically, we need help in the education environment, and the people in our state are getting taxed to death,” Ramone said. “We need to change that.”
Rep. Lyndon Yearick on Tuesday was chosen by House Republicans to replace Rep. Tim Dukes, R-Laurel, as minority whip.
Yearick told Delaware LIVE News that without changes, “we’re going to continue to get our clocks cleaned and shrug our shoulders and wonder why.”
First on the list, he said, the GOP needs to embrace early voting.
“There’s no longer one election day — there’s 11 election days,” he said. “We want to get our supporters out to vote early so that we can spend more time and energy on getting other people out to vote on election day.”
Yearick believes the party should employ the same strategy for absentee voters, including young people who have gone off to college or the military and senior voters who may be incapacitated.
Second, he said, the party needs to do a better job at recruiting and equipping candidates with the tools they need to succeed — and it needs to be done years, not months, in advance.
Senate Minority Whip Brian Pettyjohn, R-Georgetown, agrees.
“We need to be planning and preparing now for 2024,” Pettyjohn said. “We can’t be doing a statewide campaign in a year. We can’t be doing some of these Senate and representative district campaigns starting in June.
“We really need to be starting probably here after the beginning of the year to give the candidates plenty of time to get their message out to prospective voters.”
Yearick said the party also needs to scrub and update its voter records so it can look back through recent elections and determine who has voted, who hasn’t, and how best to communicate with those who haven’t to bring them back to the polling places.
“This is all like putting a puzzle together,” he said. “These are the pieces that we put together and the more pieces you put together, the better you can see the picture.”
But the strategy can’t just include better organization and messaging.
There are issues on which the Republican Party insists on focusing even though Delaware voters have rejected those issues election after election, insiders say.
Every Republican who spoke to Delaware LIVE believes election integrity is important, but the right’s national laser-focus on the notion of wide-scale election fraud has not been an effective strategy to attract voters.
It’s failed for two reasons, politicos say.
First, it turns off moderate voters who find it petulant to cry fraud when a candidate loses, but not when they win. Second, it drives away those potential voters who buy into the “rigged system” narrative and who feel their votes will be negated by fraud.
At a national level, candidates who questioned or denied the outcome of the 2020 presidential election lost several key races. According to one study, “Americans in battleground states such as Pennsylvania, Michigan and Arizona ultimately shunned election denialism when voting for offices with a responsibility to administer or oversee elections.”
The narrative carries on in Delaware.
The state Republican Party launched a form on its website for citizens to report voting problems, and on Tuesday, party Chair Jane Brady called for the resignation of two New Castle County voting officials after several polling places ran out of ballots on election day.
Yearick called that incident a “bad look for the Department of Elections and they need to clean that up, but we need to move on from voter fraud.”
“I’m not of the mindset there’s rampant fraud in our state,” he said. “Now, could there be some that occurs, for example in 2020 when mail-in ballots were a dime a dozen? Yes. But in my opinion, I’m more confident whenever there’s 11 days of in-person voting that when a person says who they are, they are who they are.”
Apart from election fraud issues, GOP Chair Brady told Delaware LIVE News she thought economic instability was going to drive Republicans to the polls.
“It just didn’t,” she said. “And the abortion issue intervened, clearly. So we didn’t win races and that was frustrating because of all the hard work that everybody did to try and win in November in the general election, but we came closer.”
Still, for Brady, the party has to improve its messaging to warn Delawareans about the rise of progressivism in the General Assembly.
“No incumbent lost in Delaware — Republican or Democrat (in the general election),” she said. “Part of that is just comfort. I just don’t want these voters to get comfortable with the new progressives.”
Brady notes that the General Assembly has moved further to the left in recent elections.
At least 10 members identify as progressives, with many affiliated with or endorsed by the Working Families Party or Delaware chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America.
It’s important that voters know who — and what — they’re voting for, she said.
“Socialism is a dangerous way to govern. Socialism doesn’t reward hard work. Socialism doesn’t reward individual effort.” she said. “Socialism doesn’t reward trying to do your best. Socialism rewards the worst circumstance of all, which is that everybody suffers the same.”
In order to combat that trend, Brady said the party wants to try to “highlight what’s going on with them and we have a communications plan that’s going to do that.”
Part of that communications plan includes the party’s recent move to launch its own newspaper, called Delaware Times.
A print and digital product, the paper itself looks and feels like an authentic publication, but it’s filled with party-driven content that highlights the party’s successes and provides exclusively positive media coverage for candidates and incumbents.
According to Janice Lorrah, former Republican candidate for state auditor, the party produced copies for each candidate to distribute to constituents.
A recent blog on the party’s website is accompanied by a Delaware Times logo, along with the slogan, “A Regional Newspaper for Delaware Families.” The papers, dubbed zombie papers, are similar to ones that have sprung up around the country.
Pettyjohn said the blame can’t be placed solely on the Delaware Republican Party for the November upset.
“I think with this past election, Republicans were looking across the country to make significant gains everywhere and that didn’t happen,” he said. “So there are definitely national undertones to what we saw here in Delaware.”
Pettyjohn, Ramone and Yearick agreed on this: In order to succeed as a Republican legislator in Delaware, it’s imperative to work across the aisle.
“When you’re outnumbered, whether it’s 14 to 7 or 15 to 6, you’ve got to work with the majority. You’ve got to present legislation that the other side will be able to buy into,” Pettyjohn said.
Yearick said there’s no reason Republicans and Democrats in the General Assembly can’t find common ground on issues like education, tax relief for the working poor, and improving public safety.
“Hopefully there’s areas to work together there,” he said. “Of course, there’s going to be differences. That’s why there are two different caucuses and two different parties.”
Ramone said anybody who’s good at math should be able to realize that Republicans won’t have success pushing an agenda of partisan bills through the legislature.
“The ability of the House Republican Caucus to cast a bunch of bills on an agenda is an unrealistic expectation,” Ramone said. “But the ability of the Republican caucus working with some of the centrist Democrats to keep Delaware in a place where it’s well balanced, I think is more possible now than ever, especially looking at some of the diversity of opinion in the Democratic caucus.”
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