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State Democratic Party machine clashes with newcomers over letter

Delaware Public Media

State Democratic Party officials are trying to cull the electoral field to avoid bruising primaries by sending letters to all candidates urging them to reconsider their political ambitions.

Party chairman John Daniello sent out these letters at the beginning of the month to all primary candidates – including incumbents – telling them to question whether their campaigns would be good for the party.

Daniello wrote, “There is absolutely no room for vanity campaigns, either statewide or local.”


He says he may have made a diplomatic mistake in sending the letter, but that his goal is to unify the party behind a qualified candidate.


“I think our job is to vet candidates. If they’re going to run on the behalf of the Democratic Party, then we’ve got a responsibility to make sure they’re the best candidate we can find,” Daniello said.


He cited Rep. Bryon Short's (D-Brandywine Hundred) decision to pull out of the U.S. House race as "a shining example of the type of objective thinking that this primary needs more of."


Short now faces a primary challenge for his state representative seat and was sent one of these form letters.




A former party official says no similar letter was issued to candidates in 2014.


Eugene Young, one of the eight candidates running to be Wilmington’s next mayor, likened it to another piece of “junk mail”.


He says he doesn’t know if the letter intends to push newcomers like him out of the political process, but that he’s not fond of anyone telling someone what they should or shouldn’t run for.


“If it comes down to our city going into a direction that it’s never gone before, then we have to start looking into different types of candidates that bring a different set of skills and experience to the table,” Young said.


The Wilmington mayor’s race is the most extreme example of a wide ranging primary, but other contests are also bulging with candidates.


Six Democrats are vying for the open Lt. Governor’s chair, while five are clamoring for Delaware’s lone U.S. House seat.


Sean Barney is one of them, and he says party bosses need to welcome primary contests.


“I think the Democratic Party in Delaware and across the country needs to embrace open debates, competition and needs to trust in its voters to make a decision,” Barney said.


State Sen. Bryan Townsend (D-Newark), who is also seeking the open House seat, agreed, saying he wouldn’t have beat the highest-ranking senator in a primary contest in 2012 had he thought they had no value.


"I think people really want to trust our political process," said Lisa Blunt Rochester, another Democrat looking to replace Rep. John Carney (D) in Washington. "I think [primaries and open debate are] a great thing for our democracy."


But others, like House Speaker Pete Schwartzkopf (D-Rehoboth Beach), agree with Daniello, saying big primaries can damage the party as a whole.


"I don’t think people in either party would think seven people running for one seat would be a good idea at all."


Matt Meyer is looking to upset incumbent New Castle County Executive Tom Gordon in September. He interprets the letter as a personal attack against fresh blood.


“There are a lot of statements in that letter that I don’t understand where they came from and they’re clearly coming a party apparatus that wants to maintain the status quo without going door-to-door, without talking to people and looking at the facts on the ground,” Meyer said.


Nothing in the letter specifically addressed his campaign, but he says he feels the strong language is discouraging people from upsetting the party machine that controls much of the state.


Daniello ended the letter calling each candidate another "fracture" that could hurt the party, and that they should be sure their "political ambitions are worth it."