Election Day is now just a week away, and we continue our Races to Watch series in the New Castle County where Democrats see another opportunity to flip a State Senate seat one that the incumbent Republican has held for more than two decades.
Delaware's 5th State Senate District covers a wide area between I-95 and Concord Pike and reaches north to the state line. It's also a district where there are several thousand more registered Democratic voters than Republicans.
But for 20 years, it has been represented by Republican State Senator Cathy Cloutier, who has also been Minority Whip since 2018. Previously, she was a State Representative for two years after the death of her husband, State Rep. Phil Cloutier.
The Democratic candidate is Kyle Evans Gay, also a mother. She is an attorney and a founding member of Spur Impact Association, which encourages young people to become civically engaged. Gay was the winner of a three-way Democratic primary in September.
Cloutier declined to be interviewed for this story. During a recent New Castle County League of Women Voters candidates' forum, she stated that "our life experiences make us who we are." Cloutier added that she is a mother of three adopted children, a wife, and a widow..."a caregiver, community volunteer, and a proud senator."
"I love serving Brandywine Hundred and the people who live in this community. I am running again because during these challenging times I know there's so much more to do, and I want to keep helping," Cloutier said.
According to Gay, she had been thinking about running for office for about a year before officially launching her candidacy in August 2019. She said she had become disappointed and frustrated at some of Cloutier's votes and the incumbent's approach to leadership in Dover.
"I think my story is just a reflection of so many people in Delaware and in America who say enough is enough, it's time for a real change and we're willing to make the sacrifice and do the hard work in order to get that for our community," Gay said.
Gay has accused Cloutier of blocking legislation that would have banned what many call assault weapons. Cloutier, however, stated on her campaign website that Gay is misrepresenting the truth. Cloutier indicated that she could not be present for a June 2018 vote due to illness and in 2019 Senate President pro tem David McBride withheld a bill from a floor vote.
There might have been a vote in 2020 if not for COVID-19.
Cloutier also said on her website that she wants "clear and effective" legislation that bans several dangerous assault weapons, and hopes a "better version of the bill is created and debated on the Senate floor." She did vote in favor of a ban on bumpstocks and for increased penalties for straw purchases of firearms.
Gay also highlighted other reasons why she is in the race: "we are behind in healthcare and making sure that every Delawarean who needs health care has it. We know that with COVID we have seen the effects of the lack of health care for certain communities, for certain individuals. The time is clearly now to fix that problem."
The pandemic is likely to remain a major focus of legislators as they begin a new Delaware General Assembly in January. Cloutier, during the League of Women Voters forum, said with no playbook Governor John Carney was doing the best he could. She said she has been inspired by arts venues, schools and businesses rallying to find solutions as they try to reopen safely.
If COVID-related matters face debate in the General Assembly, Cloutier said "it is about the schools and the teachers, also businesses opening, protecting our most vulnerable citizens and protecting access to healthcare and equality for all."
Cloutier stated on her campaign website that she actually shifted efforts of her supporters to respond to the 'unfolding challenges' related to the pandemic. They recruited more than 100 Meals on Wheels volunteers, acquired and distributed more than 4,000 masks for front line workers, supported the Food Bank, and delivered meals to first responders and nurses. Cloutier added that she had suspended most fundraisers and many phone calls while distributing mainly COVID-19 informational e-mails.
Lawmakers are also likely to face a challenging budget year. Although state revenue projections recently were somewhat encouraging, the economy is still struggling. Still, Gay believes it's a good time to make investments into universal pre-kindergarten and to offer more support to education in general.
"When we think about education specifically, our job as we deal with changes in revenue due to COVID and the challenges that we're going to be facing is making sure that we're standing a line that our children are not going to suffer because of it, and that education is the last thing that gets cut," Gay said.
In a district with long-established neighborhoods, aging infrastructure is another of Gay's concerns -and it's another area where she is critical of Cloutier.
"My opponent has sent funds that should have been used in our district to her Republican colleagues down south and she's failed to use all of her funds what are clearly infrastructure failings in our streets, on our sidewalks and with sinkholes and the like in our district," Gay said.
Cloutier said on her website that's not true.
"In order to complete projects a year SOONER than planned, I borrowed $160,000 from Senate colleagues with the promise to return the funds ASAP. On July 6th, 2020 I simply returned the money to the Senators - a standard operating procedure," Cloutier said. "This was not a shady political favor or misuse of funds, as my opponent tries to make it appear."
During this campaign, Gay participated in Black Lives Matter demonstrations, and stood with the Delaware Legislative Black Caucus as they outlined measures designed to bring about more police accountability. She does not shy away from being known for progressive values.
"I am running on the values that I believe represent my district. I believe I am the best representative of my district in the race," Gay said. "I do believe in progressive values. I believe in increasing the minimum wage. I believe we should be supporting working families. I believe we should be doing more to provide healthcare and other services to our neighbors."
Cloutier, meanwhile, stated on her website:
"I will always listen to you - my constituents, and in conjunction with my own independent conscience, make choices that create a positive impact on our community. I will relentlessly continue to champion the issues which matter most to you and your families."
Both campaigns have robustly fundraised in attempt to win District 5. In the Senate, Democrats currently hold a 12-9 advantage over Republicans – and they see flipping this seat as way to solidify their majority hold on that chamber.