DSA’s Big Primary Night—Incumbents Hold On, While Neal Scores Massive Upset in 13th RD

September 13th, 2022 was a day that will be remembered as pivotal in the growth of our chapter. Thanks to our aggressive endorsement campaign, recruitment efforts into our chapter, and the work of our members on the ground and on the phones, we are poised not just to more than double our number of chapter members in the Delaware General Assembly, but to hold sole possession of the second highest number of DSA members in our state legislature in the country! (Second only to New York, the bulwark of American socialism for the past 110 years, of course.) Our lone non-member endorsee facing a primary, Kerri Evelyn Harris, also won, and won big—she scored 64% of the vote in a four-way race! Overall, our members went 5-2 in their primaries, and including Harris, our endorsees went 6-2—a spectacular night for Delawarean leftism! Here is a more detailed account of the races.

SD-14 (Smyrna)-DSA member Kyra Hoffner vs. Sam Noel, Rob Sebastiano, Michael “Tater” Hill Shaner, and Kevin Mustowin

DSA member Kyra Hoffner (she/her) won with roughly 34% of the vote, besting her closest competitor Tater Hill-Shaner’s 27%. Despite concerns that fellow progressive Sam Noel would steal votes from Hoffner and cost her the election, Noel actually came in dead last, not even clocking 10%, despite raising the most money out of the crowded five-candidate logjam. In a reverse of what commonly happens in American politics to the ire of leftists everywhere, the moderate candidates actually scored 58% of the vote combined, but moderate voters were less disciplined than progressive ones and DSA’s discipline—along with that of Progressive Democrats of Delaware—in rallying behind Hoffner helped her consolidate progressive support. Hoffner leaned heavily into being the only woman against an all-male slate of opponents; she had stickers saying “Don’t be shady, vote for the lady” and touted her history as a League of Women Voters lobbyist while focusing on women’s issues such as reproductive rights on the campaign trail. Women responded—especially Moms Demand Action, who tirelessly worked on her campaign. Hoffner faces the toughest general campaign of any of the primary winners, but if she can survive (as she should—her district gave over 60% of its votes to Pres. Joe Biden in his 2020 campaign, and, per FiveThirtyEight, Delaware has one of the fewest numbers of swing voters per capita in the country), she will not only be the first DSA member in the history of the Delaware State Senate and our first Southern Delaware DSA branch member to hold public office, but she will be the first DSA member to take office in any former slave state in the 40-year national history of our organization-which would ideally deliver death blows to discouraging myths about where socialism can succeed. Still, this is probably our most competitive race in the general election and definitely one we need to show up heavily for!

RD-1 (Wilmington)-Rep. Nnamdi Chukwuocha vs. DSA member Wilmington City Councilwoman Shané Darby-Bey—loss

Unfortunately, despite winning the Election Day vote, Councilwoman Darby (she/her) lost by a 52-48% margin in her effort to primary incumbent Rep. Nnamdi Chukwuocha, who has faced heavy criticism for his centrist votes such as those to expand the city of Wilmington’s ability to gentrify residents out through eminent domain and to weaken gun control legislation despite the pandemic of gun violence that is ripping apart his district. Unfortunately, absentee ballots and early votes, combined with his strength in the majority-white neighborhoods of the Triangle, Trolley Square, and his home area of Brandywine Hills, were enough for Rep. Chukwuocha to prevail by just 90 votes. Thankfully, the vast majority of the district will still be represented at the city level either by Councilwoman Darby or City Councilwoman Linda Gray, who endorsed Councilwoman Darby, as well as by Ernest “Trippi” Congo, the City Council President who also endorsed the Councilwoman.

RD-6 (N. Wilmington)-Rep. Deb Heffernan vs. DSA member Becca Cotto—loss

Becca Cotto (she/her) ran an extraordinary campaign by all accounts-she started knocking on doors as early as November, braving the ice-cold Brandywine Hundred winter to get out and talk to the voters of the 6th District. Unfortunately, however, she came up short by a 56-44% margin. Several factors can explain the loss. Despite Rep. Heffernan’s questionable record on some issues—such as police and the environment—unlike the other incumbents our members faced off against, she does have bona fide progressive credentials on other issues, particularly education and labor, which earned her nearly unanimous union support in addition to her establishment backing, support that helped her build a staggering war chest of nearly $75,000. Another factor that cannot be ignored is race—Delaware DSA endorsees have yet to win any open seats in districts that are over 64% white, and RD-6 has a 74% white population—it may not be a homogenous bubble, but it’s certainly not diverse either. While Cotto was able to score a couple of wins in Pennyhill and in the the district’s lone majority-minority precinct of Edgemoor, Rep. Heffernan ran the rest of the table, even winning over 60% of the vote in Bellefonte, the one precinct in the district which gave openly socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders a win in his 2016 presidential run. The support of Scott Mackenzie, the President of Town Council (and under Bellefonte’s system, its de facto mayor), who while not a DSA member is also an open socialist, may have also helped Rep. Heffernan pick up a win even in a town known for its progressivism.

RD-13 (Elsmere)- DSA member DeShanna Neal vs. House Majority Whip Larry Mitchell—WIN!!!

In the biggest upset of this primary cycle by far, DeShanna Neal (she/they) knocked off the third-in-command of the Democratic House Caucus, 16-year incumbent, and former police officer Rep. Larry Mitchell by a 51-49% margin—just 24 votes! Every single canvass that DSA members participated in mattered, and the Working Families Party and Moms Demand Action were also enormously active in helping make this historic victory possible. Neal, who lives in a safely Democratic district, will almost assuredly be the first Buddhist and first non-binary person ever to hold public office in Delaware. As expected, her path to victory lay in the eastern part of the district, which is more diverse than its western section and sits next to the city of Wilmington; and while Neal lost the absentee vote, Election Day ballots made up the difference and carried the day for socialism in Delaware!

RD-18 (E. Newark)-DSA member Sophie Phillips vs. Martin Willis-win

In Delaware DSA’s biggest blowout of the night, Sophie Phillips (she/her), who in her safely Democratic district will almost assuredly become at age 26 the youngest member of the Delaware General Assembly in addition to its first-ever Jew of color and its first-ever Asian American, defeated Martin Willis by a whopping 71-29% margin. There isn’t a whole lot to analyze here: Phillips comfortably won every single precinct in the entire RD, thanks to her incredible discipline, error-free campaigning, and hard work canvassing every day during the home stretch of the campaign. She was able to coalesce the support of unions, activist groups, and even many moderates with her charisma and impeccable history of environmental activism and expertise in environmental policy—a must in a district suffering from as much pollution and congestion as the 18th.

RD-26 (Bear)-DSA member Rep. Madinah Wilson-Anton vs. Kelly Williams-Maresca—win

In another comfortable win, Rep. Madinah Wilson-Anton (she/her) fended off right-wing nut job cum Democratic primary challenger Kelly Williams-Maresca in a 68-32% rout. Despite tens of thousands being poured in by dark money groups to attack Rep. Wilson-Anton, the Democratic primary voters of the 26th District could see right through Williams-Maresca’s paper-thin “Democratic” veneer. While Williams-Maresca posted respectable numbers and even two narrow wins in some of the smaller, whiter, more affluent precincts of the district such as Salem Woods, she lost by laughable margins in the more diverse ones-probably because comparing COVID vaccine mandates to the Holocaust and comparing January 6th favorably to Black Lives Matter protests doesn’t play well in majority-minority districts. Rep. Wilson-Anton, the first Muslim member of the Delaware General Assembly, also turned out her faith community, which heavily supported her.

RD-27 (Glasgow)-DSA member Rep. Eric Morrison vs. Michael Hertzfeld—win

Everyone’s favorite progressive firebrand, Rep. Eric Morrison (he/him), won by a nearly two-to-one margin (66-34%) against his primary opponent Michael Hertzfeld despite a determined effort by “Democratic” House “leadership” to punish him by giving him as much of Southern New Castle County as possible—this effort also included a second five-figure hate mail campaign that proved to be money flushed down the toilet. Hertzfeld’s campaign was likely doomed from the start—it was light on policy and even reluctant to identify itself as Democratic—maybe not the best strategy when running in a Democratic primary! Rep. Morrison, on the other hand, took nothing for granted, kept his high motor running full speed, and made sure to canvass and send canvassers to the new parts of his district. While Rep. Morrison—the first openly gay man to ever serve in the Delaware General Assembly—was dominant across the board, he did especially well in absentee voting, showing his strength in highly responsive constituent services and in the senior community—not necessarily a strength any openly gay man with a lot of piercings would have in a majority-white, suburban district—but this shows Rep. Morrison’s political skill and acumen—he is a great politician as well as a great leader! However, he faces a tough challenge in November from experienced political candidate John Marino, who despite his efforts to rebrand as a “moderate” Republican is a COVID-denying Donald Trump supporter. It is important that we support Rep. Morrison in his effort to retain his seat!

RD-32 (Dover)-DSA endorsee Kerri Evelyn Harris vs. Lamont Pierce, LaVaughn McCutchen, and Phil McGinniswin

Despite fears that a crowded field could hand this race to another right-wing nut job cum Democratic primary candidate Phil McGinnis, Kerri Evelyn Harris (she/her) prevailed handily by a 40-point margin, 64% to McGinnis’s second place 24%, with neither of the other candidates sniffing double digits. There is not a ton to analyze here; Harris won every precinct except a tiny, white coastal one she lost 10-7 to McGinnis, an anomaly in this majority-minority district. Harris would be the first openly gay woman in the Delaware House of Representatives, and would be tied with Sophie Phillips to be the first multiracial state representative in Delaware should she prevail in her general election. While given the Democratic nature of her district, this should be an easy task to accomplish, unfortunately nothing is easy for a biracial, Black, LGBT, disabled woman facing the full wrath of the old Southern Delaware white establishment. Harris will face a tough battle and have a lot of powerful enemies, so it’s critical we give her our support as well!

Recommended candidates

Both of our recommended candidates won—Lydia York for Auditor of Accounts defeated incumbent Auditor Kathy McGuinness 71-29% and Brandon Toole for New Castle County Council (CD-1) defeated Frank Maule 58-42%.

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