Politics

Even in Safe Seats, Candidates Hit the Campaign Trail

Lisa Blunt Rochester is heavily favored to win Delaware's at-large seat

Democrat Lisa Blunt Rochester, center, is poised to become the first woman and first African-American elected to Congress from Delaware. (Simone Pathé/CQ Roll Call)

DOVER, Del. — Lisa Blunt Rochester bounced from one side of the street to the other, pausing to shake hands on either side of the Delaware State University homecoming parade route this past Saturday. Jogging in her kitten heels, she’d double back before the parade had even moved on.

Marching ahead of her was Delaware Rep. John Carney, who’s running for governor and vacating the at-large congressional seat Blunt Rochester is expected to win in November. She’d be the first woman and first African-American Delaware sends to Congress — a historic moment a young parade marcher noted with a large sign asking, “Delaware, Are You Ready?”

 

In a strong Democratic state, Carney and Blunt Rochester are heavy favorites to win their races. They both led their GOP opponents by at least 20 points in a University of Delaware poll from September. 

In 26 open House races, nonincumbents are running in seats that The Rothenberg & Gonzales Political Report/Roll Call currently rates safe for their party. Those 26 candidates are almost guaranteed to be members of next year’s freshman class. 

Some of them, like Indiana Republican Jim Banks, have spread their campaign cash. Banks won his primary in May. Over the past three months, his campaign donated to 14 other GOP House candidates and contributed $50,000 to the National Republican Congressional Committee. 

But even “safe” candidates still have to campaign to get their names out. As Blunt Rochester greeted Dover residents parked in lawn chairs along the parade route, one of her volunteers held above her an arrow-shaped sign with “Lisa” written on it. She moved so fast, it was sometimes difficult to spot her.

Blunt Rochester had a full day ahead of her last Saturday, and if her campaign schedule was any indication, she’s not taking her race lightly. After the parade, she headed to the Sussex County Democratic coordinated campaign office, where she made phone calls and told volunteers not to take victory for granted. Two university galas followed that evening. 

Her widely expected win wasn’t always a foregone conclusion. Blunt Rochester, who comes from a politically active Delaware family, launched her campaign — with the help of EMILY’s List — last fall. She joked that she and her sisters were picking out the campaign’s theme colors at her son’s wedding in Mexico several days earlier. Since then, she lent her campaign more than $400,000.

The outcome of the mid-September six-way Democratic primary was anyone’s guess. Only one public poll had been conducted during the summer, and it showed more than 50 percent of voters undecided. Blunt Rochester was in the top crop of candidates, but she ended up winning by a greater-than-expected 19 points. 

Campaigning is different now, she said. During the primary, it was harder to differentiate herself from the other candidates. But in the general election, the policy contrasts between her and GOP opponent Hans Reigle are more stark. 

She launched three TV ads during the primary. But Blunt Rochester's efforts are now focused on the ground game. “We’re trying to touch people in the flesh,” she said. 

Blunt Rochester is high-energy, even “goofy,” according to her mom and sister. Over lunch in between campaign stops, she mused aloud about wanting to plan a dance party for election night. 

“That’s part of the message, too, is to keep people energized,” she said. 

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