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Races to Watch: Pair of Democrats vie for 6th State Senate District opening

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Delaware Public Media
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Jack Bucchioni and Russell Huxtable

Delaware Public Media is highlighting a series of “Races to Watch,” with races in the upcoming September primary as part of the station’s 2022 election coverage.

In Sussex County, two Democrats are vying for the 6th Senate District seat being vacated by retiring Republican State Senator Ernie Lopez.

Delaware Public Media’s Joe Irizarry breaks down that primary race this week, which will decide Republican State Rep. Steve Smyk’s opponent in November.

Delaware Public Media’s Joe Irizarry breaks down the 6th State Senate District primary race

Democrats Jack Bucchioni and Russ Huxtable face off in the September 13 primary, hoping to turn a long-time Republican district covering Rehoboth Beach, Lewes, Milton, and the surrounding communities Blue.

This seat has not only been in Republican hands since it moved to Sussex County in 2012, and also when it was in New Castle County prior to that redistricting. In the last election, Ernie Lopez defeated Democrat David Baker by about 1,500 votes.

Bucchioni is not a new name to Democrats in this area. In 2018, he ran in the General election against State Rep. Steve Smyk in the 20th House district within the 6th Sen. district. Bucchioni pulled in 43% of the vote in that race, and since then has spent a lot of time at Leg Hall in Dover. What has he taken from those experiences?

"So hanging out there getting to know a lot of the personalities and how things work up there has been invaluable. So what do I know now that I didn't know then? A little bit of the dynamics of the insider Delaware Way knowing who the people are, how they're going to vote what it takes to get a law into place and I've been pretty much working on the, sidelines along with people," said Bucchioni.

Huxtable is a new name in Delaware politics, but has been involved in affordable housing and community development in Delaware for about 20 years -work that led him to run for office. He knows he faces some barriers as a new candidate.

"This is just something we feel driven to, to help this community grow you. It's name recognition that's going to be my biggest hurdle in making and getting that voter turnout in the primary."
Democrat Russ Huxtable, 6th State Senate District candidate

"I may not have the same name recognition as my primary opponent because again I haven't run in that circle before I haven't run for a political office before,” said Huxtable. “This is just something we feel driven to, to help this community grow you. It's name recognition that's going to be my biggest hurdle in making and getting that voter turnout in the primary."

The two Democrats see eye-to-eye on many issues. For example, they both support recent gun bills passed by lawmakers and signed by Gov. John Carney.

And they also have similar priorities for what issues need to be tackled should they head to Leg Hall. Bucchioni outlines what he sees as important to voters in the district.

"Lower Sussex County is the lowest area in the United States. Some of the maps are we're going to be underwater by 2040-2050 that's a problem the rising seawater so there's those types of things,” said Bucchioni. “The other issue which I'm big on down here is there's an explosion of people moving into the area, so over-building on the coastal area is right at the top of the list."

He also ranks affordable housing near the top of his list. Huxtable’s list includes many of the same issues.

"People are concerned with the traffic and infrastructure issues that we have. People are concerned with quality of life, the environment not just globally with climate change, but also locally on how we are developing. We're concerned about health care capacity, education, and affordable housing, and we believe there needs to be better coordination and accountability between the state and the county governments on how we grow together," said Huxtable.

Both candidates also recognize having to win a primary is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it offers a head-start in campaigning and reaching out to voters, but it also means using resources now that could be needed to win in November. Bucchioni is fully focused on the primary, and says a head-to-head showdown is manageable

"I had six come after me in the primary, we're down to one. So I'm less concerned, can we say that. You never want to take it for granted, and I don't want to pay attention to the general until we get through the primary. Working very hard, we're already into voting early voting folks are getting their absentee ballots. We're on that and September 13th is the primary vote," said Bucchioni.

Huxtable also takes an optimistic outlook, seeing the primary as a chance to introduce himself to the community

"It would be nice if you just had a clear path, right, but also I believe iron sharpens iron. In this regard we do have a primary,” said Huxtable. “There's issues that we deal with in a primary with an election, and so it helps us as well. Yeah, I can see this as a positive to make sure our message is honed and clear."

Whichever candidate wins faces an uphill battle in November. The district has gone Republican the last 10 years. But registration numbers offer some hope. Democrats have about 3,000 more voters in the district than Republicans - with over 11,250 voters not registered to either party.

"We call them Delawareans by choice. Lot of folks have moved in from Boston, Philadelphia, Washington, DC, and Baltimore. It has swelled the ranks of folks that have come in here. They've realized Democratic wise they do not have a seat at the table. So, here we go, the door is open, it's an open seat let's see."
Democrat Jack Bucchioni, 6th State Senate District candidate

And there are about 1,400 more voters in 6th Sen. district now than four years ago - offering a pool of new voters to reach. Bucchioni sees opportunity in the numbers.

"We call them Delawareans by choice. Lot of folks have moved in from Boston, Philadelphia, Washington, DC, and Baltimore. It has swelled the ranks of folks that have come in here,” said Bucchioni. “They've realized Democratic wise they do not have a seat at the table. So, here we go, the door is open, it's an open seat let's see."

And Huxtable believes he can appeal to voters beyond his own party.

"A lot of the issues that I'm trying to address they're issues of community, they're issues of how we want to grow together. So they're not left or right issues. They're just issues of about all of us," said Huxtable.

One hurdle the winner of this September 13th primary will face is their GOP opponent. State Rep. Steve Smyk has held his House seat since 2013, and even though he’s running for the State Senate now - he has valuable name recognition to lean on.

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Joe brings over 20 years of experience in news and radio to Delaware Public Media and the All Things Considered host position. He joined DPM in November 2019 as a reporter and fill-in ATC host after six years as a reporter and anchor at commercial radio stations in New Castle and Sussex Counties.