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Bentz pulls out victory in special election

Delaware Public Media

David Bentz held on in a close special election Saturday, winning by a unofficial margin of about 200 votes to allow Democrats to retain their supermajority in the House.

Unofficial state results have Bentz topping Republican Eileen O’Shaughnessy-Coleman with 56.7 percent of the vote. Ten percent of registered voters in the 18th District went to the polls, at times facing rainy conditions.

"It's been fast and it's been just a lot of hard work and it's great to hear that the message that I was taking to voters was something that they were receptive to," Bentz said.

The race to replace outgoing Rep. Michael Barbieri was more than symbolic for Democrats, who could’ve lost the ability to pass tax and fee bills with their own caucus had the GOP picked up the seat.

Both candidates have had a sprint of a campaign season when Barbieri resigned his seat at the beginning of August to lead the state Division of Substance Abuse and Mental health for $144,000 salary.

Bentz says he thinks his focus on education – especially in a district partially served by the Christina School District where patrons recently rejected two property tax referendums that led to teacher layoffs and further discord between the school board and the district administration.

"[We need to be] making sure we're strengthening the classroom and supporting our teachers and putting the resources we do have in the classroom so that our teachers can do their job to the best of their ability and our students can get prepared to compete," he said.

O'Shaughnessy-Coleman noted the results were disappointing, but says the turnout was a "really good showing".

"There seems to be a wave and I was hoping to be the first part of it," she said, noting the gains Republicans made in the 2014 midterms. "So instead of being a wave, I think I was a little bit of a ripple, but now we just need to keep the ripple going so it becomes a strong wave for the next general election." 

The seat will be up for grabs again in 2016, but O'Shaughnessy-Coleman hasn't decided whether she'll run a second time for it.

The 18th Representative District covers parts of Newark, Bear and Christiana.

Earlier in the day at Gallaher Elementary School, party allegiance was split among those filtering in and out.

"I just feel like we need more representation on both sides," said Reidun Taylor, noting she cast her ballot for O'Shaughnessy-Coleman. "One party has dominated in this state, mostly in New Castle County and I don't like where it's got us so far."

Ranlin Sanders cited ongoing troubles in the Christina School District and the need to improve Delaware's education system in what spurred him to get to the polls, though declined to say who he voted for.

"The Christina School District is one of the reasons I moved to my area," said Sanders. "Taxes are going up, but your [property value] may go down because you don't have a good school system in your area."

Light rain drizzled off and on throughout the late morning and into the afternoon, though thunderstorms had been predicted.

That forecast didn't deter Sharon Sanders, a teacher, who said she connected with Bentz when she met him at her doorstep and learned that she shares a profession with his wife.

"I appreciated the fact that he kind of understands the education system and seems very committed to addressing some of the concerns and issues that we have."

First time voter Jacquelyn Bossek came to the poll with her father and chose Bentz as well, noting her concerns over jobs and the economy.

Despite voter registration totals showing a vast majority of residents are Democrats, neither campaign took that to heart, as the district repeatedly elected former House Speaker Terry Spence until he was unseated by Barbieri in 2008.

Bentz thanked a woman for her vote at Gallaher Elementary as she was leaving, but urged her to bring her husband.

"He didn't bother to come because he says you're going to win anyway," she said while walking back to her car, with Bentz shaking his head, promising her that every vote counts.

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