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Delaware primary: Legislative races too close to call, low turnout, major upsets

Meredith Newman & Molly McVety - Delaware Online

With a significantly low voter turnout, Delaware’s primary election on Tuesday saw the defeat of controversial incumbent state Auditor Kathleen McGuiness to newcomer Democrat Lydia York, as well narrow races involving incumbent lawmakers, some of whom served in the legislature for decades.

The primary also included the return of President Joe Biden, who flew to his home to cast his vote.

Though voter turnout is usually lower in non-presidential years, only an estimated 12.37% of registered voterscast ballots in the primary. This is not only a significant dip from 2020, in which 32.6% of registered voters turned out, but it is likely one of the lowest voter turnouts in the state since 2006.

The auditor’s race, which was the only statewide primary in Delaware, saw a major defeat of McGuiness, who was convicted of official misconduct this summer. York, an accountant and lawyer, won more than 70% of the vote.

Tuesday’s primary included more than a dozen races of General Assembly lawmakers, a majority of which included challenges against long-time incumbents. Every lawmaker is up for reelection this year, though not everyone had a primary challenger.

As of 12:30 a.m. Wednesday, some races were still too close to call. Below is a breakdown of the most notable primary wins. Here’s a list of all of Tuesday’s races:

House leader trails progressive newcomer for Elsmere seat

For many of these incumbents, this is the first time they’ve been challenged in years – if ever. The election on Tuesday was the first time House Majority Whip Larry Mitchell faced a primary challenger since winning office in 2006.

As of 12:30 a.m. Wednesday, progressive newcomer DeShanna Neal was leading Mitchell by 24 votes, though votes from one the race’s districts had yet to be counted. If Neal wins, it would be one of the most significant upsets of the primary.

In 2020, four of seven incumbent Democratic lawmakers lost their primary races to underdog challengers, which shocked many in Legislative Hall. It was clear at the time that voters were looking for younger, more diverse and more progressive candidates.

Then-Senate President Pro Tempore David McBride lost to current Sen. Marie Pinkney by 282 votes.

Bonini loses to Levy Court commissioner after 28 years in Senate

Seven-term incumbent Sen. Colin Bonini was defeated by Kent County Levy Court Commissioner Eric Buckson in a three-way race with Air Force veteran Kim Petters on the Republican side. Buckson is the son of former Gov. David P. Buckson.

The district in eastern central Kent County includes parts of Dover and Camden mostly east of Route 13, along with Magnolia, Frederica and Bowers Beach.

Buckson won with 1,915 votes, 51.11%. Petters was second with 1,071 votes, 27.14%, while

Bonini received 815 votes, 21.75%.

“I’m proud of the campaign I ran and the work our team put in, and I’m excited to serve,” Buckson said. “I’d like to commend Sen. Bonini on his years of service.”

Buckson said many residents told him they feel like they’re losing their rights.

“They wanted a new voice and a fresh approach to fighting for our rights and serving the community on a daily basis outside of Legislative Hall,” he said.

Buckson, who retired last year after 30 years as an educator in the Polytech School District, said his experience with educational issues should serve residents well.

Bonini was first elected to the Senate in November 1994. He’s also previously run for governor and state treasurer.

“I am incredibly grateful for the honor of serving as the 16th District state senator for 28 years,” Bonini said in an emailed statement.

Chukwuocha narrowly leads Wilmington primary,

thanks to absentee ballots

Rep. Nnamdi Chukwuocha was narrowly leading Wilmington councilwoman Shané Darby by 90 votes as of 12:30 a.m. Wednesday.

The Wilmington lawmaker received slightly more absentee and early voting ballots, despite Darby receiving more machine votes.

Darby just entered the race just this summer. This last-minute challenge was seen as a response to Chukwuocha's record on renter’s rights, including legislation he supported this past session relating to eminent domain.

Outcomes of other primary races, by county

New Castle County’s Bolden, Morrison, Wilson-Anton hold ground

Stephanie Bolden will continue as state representative for Delaware’s 2nd district. The incumbent received 711 votes and defeated her opponent, community activist James J. Taylor, who received 434 votes.

Sophie Phillips won District 18’s state representative race with 70.5% of votes against her opponent Martin C. Willis.

Cyndie Romer has won district 25’s state representative seat in a landslide victory, securing an estimated 902 votes against her opponent Edward J. Klima’s 176.

Madinah Wilson-Anton has secured her spot as District 26’s state representative, with an estimated 68.2% of votes against her opponent Kelly Maresca.

Incumbent Eric Morrison has won District 27’s state representative seat. Morrison is estimated to have received over 63% of votes over his opponent Michael Hertzfeld.

Hoffner and Harris win big in Kent County

The Democratic race to fill Sen. Bruce Ennis’ seat was the most crowded primary this year. The Dover Democrat is retiring after 40 years. Kyra Hoffner, a lobbyist with the League of Women Voters, defeated four other challengers, winning 34.4% of the vote in Kent’s district 14.

Kerri Evelyn Harris, a veteran and advocate, defeated three other primary challengers with about 64.6% of the vote for District 32’s state representative seat, which includes parts of Dover. She will now face Republican Cheryl Precourt in November.

Rieley, Fuller, Smyk among winners in Sussex’s Republican Races

Incumbent councilman John Rieley beat challenger Keller Hopkins in Sussex County’s 5th District Republican primary with about 62% of the votes, receiving 2,390 votes to Hopkins’ 1,425. Rieley called the election results a “resounding repudiation” of Hopkins’ smear campaign tactics. Rieley will face Democrat Billy Edwards in November.

In other Sussex races, Alexandra Reed Baker narrowly beat incumbent Scott Dailey in the Republican primary for Recorder of Deeds. Dailey has held the position since 2010. Reed Baker garnered 7,588 votes to Dailey’s 7,401.

In the Republican primary for Sussex County Register of Wills, Greg Fuller beat both incumbent Ellen Magee and Candice Green Wilkinson. Magee was appointed to the position last year after its previous holder, Cynthia Green, was elected to the Sussex County Council (District 2).

Neither Reed Baker nor Fuller face challengers in November, save for write-ins.

In the Representative District 36 Republican primary, covering the Milford area, the incumbent Rep. Bryan Shupe won out over Patrick Smith in a contest of 1,323 votes to Smith’s 616. No one has registered to run against him in November, according to the Department of Elections website.

Representative District 4 was created in last year’s state redistricting process to include west Millsboro, Oak Orchard, Long Neck and Angola. In the District 4 Republican primary, Jeff Hilovsky’s 1,266 votes beat Bradley Layfield’s 817. Hilovsky will face both a Democratic and an independent challenger in November.

Ernie Lopez (R-Lewes) is retiring from State Senate District 6 this year, with current District 20 Rep. Steve Smyk (R-Milton) running to take over his position. After Tuesday’s Democratic primary, his challenger will be Russ Huxtable, whose 2,940 votes beat Jack Bucchioni’s 1,273.

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