National Republican leaders could look here for inspiration
Nationwide, many Republican leaders are looking at ways to help their party deal with its demographic challenges. In the Electoral College, Republicans face an increasingly difficult path. In a year when they were expected to have a chance at taking control of the U.S. Senate, Republicans actually lost seats.
Republicans will have to learn how to broaden their appeal. One place for them to look is the Sixth Senate District in Sussex County, where Republican Ernie Lopez handily defeated Democrat Andy Staton, a solid, well-financed candidate.
Republican primary voters here didn’t make the mistake of picking a Tea Party favorite with a too-narrow appeal for the general election, as happened in some U.S. Senate races.
Following Christine O’Donnell’s win among Sussex County Republican primary voters in 2010, one might have expected them to support Glen Urquhart, a conservative businessman. Instead, they voted for Ernie Lopez, a University of Delaware administrator.
Urquhart’s message was “Government is the problem.” Lopez talked about the government doing more with less, but he didn’t speak of it as the enemy.
Unlike many Republicans nationally, Lopez also showed respect for scientists and their research. Here he is at an Oct. 22 candidate forum answering a question about sea-level rise:
“I think we are very fortunate in this area to have one of the premier research institutions in the nation in the College of Earth, Ocean and Environment at the University of Delaware,” Lopez said.
“I’m looking forward to being part of the conversation to ensure that good science is being used to make sure to solve these problems, which are going to have a long-term effect not just on us, but on our children as well.”
Compare that to Republican candidates nationally, who seemed to take pride in their contempt for science and even scientists personally.
Perhaps the lowest point of last year’s Republican primaries was when Gov. Rick Perry of Texas slandered climate scientists.
“A substantial number of scientists [have] manipulated data to keep the money rolling in,” Perry said in August 2011.
In Perry’s mind, scientists, such as those at the University of Delaware, were little better than crooks, conspiring to enrich themselves by misleading the public. That’s an attitude likely to drive away moderate Republicans and independents.
(It’s interesting to note that Perry, as governor of Texas, has been accused of doing a little manipulating himself. After receiving a report from the Houston Advanced Research Center about Galveston Bay, his administration removed all references about climate change and projections for sea-level rise.)
Hopefully in Delaware we’ll take Lopez’s approach. In the “one picture is worth a thousand words” category, check Ron MacArthur’s photo - on the Cape Gazette website - of the breaches in what used to be the dune line near Primehook Beach. It makes clearer than any story the threat to the nearby coastal communities.
For Delaware, this issue will be among the biggest and most challenging in the coming years and decades. We will need to hear from residents, elected officials and the very best scientific experts to find a solution.
It might work now, but not forever
But if Lopez appealed to the center, not everybody took that road. An email sent out by a well-known Republican - not by a candidate or a campaign - referred to one of the local candidates as being part of a gay movement to infiltrate “all levels of government.”
I talked to some who felt this helped swing the election. It’s possible. The Cape Region is filled with older, conservative voters for whom this strategy might work.
Long-term, though, this approach will prove a loser, even among conservative voters. From what I’ve seen in polls, young people of all backgrounds don’t see this issue the same way as older folks. Eventually, the idea of a gay conspiracy will seem as outdated as the prejudice faced by President John F. Kennedy, a Catholic who some thought would be taking orders from the Vatican.
A win for Cape Region
One thing, however, was always certain about this year’s election. It was going to be a big win for the Cape Region, no matter who won.
As it was, the two new districts - Senate District 6 and Representative District 20 - drew a field of strong candidates. As newly elected District 20 representative Steve Smyk said earlier, “We get better legislation when they’re up in Dover fighting.”
Statewide, Republicans aren’t bringing much more to the fight - Democrats still have a 27-14 edge in the House and a 13-8 advantage in the Senate - but the Cape Region itself will have a louder voice.
And finally, a big “thank you” to everyone who ran, winners and losers alike. Democracy depends on people having a choice.