Delaware Public Media

GOP chair, two others to step down from party executive team

Mar 24, 2017

Delaware’s Republican Party will see an overhaul of its executive team come April – including its chairman, Charlie Copeland.

Copeland became the president of the Intercollegiate Studies Institute last year, a nonprofit trying to foster young conservatives across the country.

He says his new role requires a lot of travel and he couldn’t juggle both jobs.

“Working on that necessitated freeing up some time and being state party chair takes a fair amount of time,” he said.

The GOP first elected Copeland to the seat in 2013 and he’s spent the past few years trying to unite a party with clear divisions between moderates and an insurgent wing of hyper conservatives.

The widest point of that rift came in 2010 when then Congressman Mike Castle was coasting through what many thought would be an easy campaign to take former Vice President Joe Biden’s Senate seat.

But Tea Party darling, Christine O’Donnell, surged past the former governor by 3,500 votes in the Republican primary only to fall to Democrat Chris Coons by more than 15 points in the general election that November.

Senate Minority Whip Greg Lavelle (R-Sharpley) dismisses the idea that the party remains divided nearly seven years later.

He notes that even if a less moderate Republican takes over for Copeland, the GOP won’t be irrevocably split.

“No matter, again, who’s chair, you don’t get to say, ‘This is what the party is going to be.’ You don’t get to say that in Washington, you don’t get to say that here, so they’ll have to work with everyone and we’ll see what comes out the other end,” Lavelle said.

Since then, Republicans have made modest gains in the state House and Senate – disrupting the Democrats’ supermajority in the upper chamber in 2014.

The same year, the party won its first new statewide seat since the 1990s when Ken Simpler took over as treasurer.

GOP candidates held on to their positions in 2016 while also knocking off Senate Pro Tem Patricia Blevins (D-Elsmere). But, they suffered a crushing loss to Democrats in a key special election earlier this year that left control of the Senate in their opponents’ hands.

Copeland says the incoming chair needs to register more Republican voters.

He also notes his replacement may have to play defense, as House Republicans today balked at replacing the Affordable Care Act, unable to reach a consensus along ideological lines.

“If they don’t [replace Obamacare], it could be a long 2018 cycle and the Republican Party would’ve earned that,” Copeland said.

Sussex County Councilman Rob Arlett says he’s considering a run to succeed Copeland.

He ran President Donald Trump’s state campaign and says Republicans in Delaware need to trumpet they’re the party of public safety, prosperity, principle and the people.

“Why haven’t we done “a better job” getting the messages of those four items out, articulated properly? That’s why I think there’s an opportunity for change, because we have to,” Arlett said.

Before leading the state Republican Party, Copeland served as a state senator, eventually becoming the Senate Minority leader. He led an unsuccessful run in 2008 for lieutenant governor.

Vice Chair John Foltz and Treasurer Bill Smith are also stepping down at the end of their terms.

Republicans will elect a new executive team at their state convention toward the end of April.