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Diverse slate of progressive candidates upsets Democratic incumbent lawmakers

Sophia Schmidt
Delaware Public Media
A protester at a rally for racial justice this summer holds a sign that reads, "Vote."

Democratic incumbent State Representatives Earl Jaques, Ray Seigfried and John Viola and State Senate President Pro Temp. David McBride all lost their primary races Tuesday. 

The progressive candidates who upset those four white men are Black, female, Muslim or LGBTQ—and all endorsed by the progressive Working Families Party. 

A total of 24 incumbent candidates in Delaware, from Levy Court up to U.S. Senator, faced primary challenges Tuesday. That was more than in 2016, or 2012, or any similar election in the last twenty years.


Delaware Democratic Party Executive Director Jesse Chadderdon told Delaware Public Media Tuesday night he was surprised that the General Assembly upsets amounted to a “slate” of insurgent wins. 

“That’s not to say that those campaigns didn’t run incredible, amazing races, and that these candidates aren’t incredibly thoughtful and very additive to the party and to the Democratic conversation,” Chadderdon said as results rolled in. “But … there is power in incumbency.”

Larry Lambert, who beat Seigfried in the 7th House District race, thinks the upsets send a message to Dover and to the people of Delaware. 

“We really do need legislators in office that are already connected to the issues of some of the more vulnerable communities, our historically disregarded communities,” said Lambert. “For me, that’s what we represent.”

Lambert, who works in corporate banking, is running on a populist message, emphasizing his connections to the community and the need for a higher minimum wage. 

“In this recent race we really showed that there is space for people who put the community first, really put the needs of the people first, and [that] it’s time to turn the page on some of these old ways that really weren’t working for all of our communities," Lambert said.

Eric Morrison won the 27th House District race against several-term incumbent Earl Jaques by more than 20 percentage points. 

“I’m thrilled to see the diversity,” Morrison said Wednesday. “I’m thrilled to see a big shift towards progressive candidates … I just think that everyone who won last night is really going to bring great stuff to the table—great experience and great energy.”

Morrison supports a carbon emissions tax, a semi-automatic weapons ban, a statewide single-payer healthcare system and making Delaware a “sanctuary state.”

If he wins in November, Morrison could be the first openly gay candidate elected to the General Assembly. Sarah McBride, who won her primary race for the 1st Senate District seat vacated by retiring Sen. Harris McDowell, could become the first openly transgender state Senator in the country.

Madinah Wilson-Anton, a policy analyst at the University of Delaware’s Biden Institute, beat incumbent Rep. John Viola for the 26th House District seat Tuesday by a few dozen votes. Viola has been in office for more than two decades.

If Wilson-Anton wins her November General race, she will be Delaware’s first practicing Muslim lawmaker. 

"I did not run to be the first Muslim," Wilson-Anton said Thursday. "I’m running because we need to have equitable schools, we need to have affordable housing, quality housing, affordable health care."


But Wilson-Anton says she does think her win “inspired a lot of people,” given that elected officials both nationally and locally have expressed “openly Islamophobic” sentiments. 

“The significance of someone who practices a different religion, one that’s often maligned in the press and made out to be uniquely violent or uniquely misogynist and all these other things … I’m just really grateful to have broken that barrier,” she said.

Social worker Marie Pinkney beat State Senate President Pro Temp. David McBride in the 13th Senate District race by a few hundred votes. McBride has been in the General Assembly since 1978.

Both Wilson-Anton and Pinkney support a state-level “Green New Deal,” a public health care option, and elimination of the “youth and training wage," which they argue encourages exploitation of young and temporary workers.

"2018 was a big year for progressives in Delaware, and 2020 is just sending shockwaves through the Democratic establishment," said Wilson-Anton. "The fact that my friend Marie Pinkney was able to take out the most powerful Senator, that alone shows that there’s going to have to be change in leadership."

“I think one of the main reasons that all of us were successful this year is because the establishment got comfortable and complacent,” she added. “It’s easy to run a campaign based on issues that are important to working people.”

Vanessa Clifford is regional political director of the Working Families Party, which works to build “independent progressive power” across the country. Clifford praises the diversity of the slate of progressives who upset Democratic incumbent lawmakers in Delaware Tuesday. 

“It’s actually fairly remarkable,” said Clifford. “Throughout the country in races that we’ve won, even if they’re majority white districts, we have been able to win against established candidates with progressive candidates of color.”

Morrison, Pinkney, Wilson-Anton and Lambert all face opponents in November’s General Election. 


This story was updated to include comment from Madinah Wilson-Anton.


Sophia Schmidt is a Delaware native. She comes to Delaware Public Media from NPR’s Weekend Edition in Washington, DC, where she produced arts, politics, science and culture interviews. She previously wrote about education and environment for The Berkshire Eagle in Pittsfield, MA. She graduated from Williams College, where she studied environmental policy and biology, and covered environmental events and local renewable energy for the college paper.
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