Restart the Party
After the election, Delaware Republicans found themselves a party non grata. Can the state committee turn its fortunes around?
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During a recent luncheon held in his honor, former governor Russell Peterson urged guests to “do the right thing.” For Wilmington attorney Tom Kovach, those words were an epiphany. “It inspired me to get involved,” Kovach says.
At first, that meant looking for the best Republican candidate to support in a late 2008 special election in the 6th Representative District. That candidate turned out to be Kovach. The challenge for the first-time office-seeker then became figuring out how to run successfully in a heavily Democratic district.
“I decided to run as myself,” Kovach says. “I would be an independent voice expressing my core values, which I believed were in synch with those of the district.”
His strategy proved to be a good one. In a district where less than 30 percent of the registered voters are Republicans, Kovach captured 51 percent of the vote. The local Republican establishment took notice.
“He showed us we have weathered the storm,” says state committee chairman Tom Ross.
The storm Ross referred to was the tsunami that was Barack Obama. In the aftermath of the last general election, Republicans found themselves the minority in the U.S. House and Senate. Similarly, Delaware Republicans lost their majority in the House of Representatives for the first time in a quarter century, leaving the party without control in either the executive or legislative branches of government.
What gives? Can the party find new footing?
National Committeewoman Priscilla Rakestraw believes the explanation for the party’s dismal showing in the elections was that it had lost its way.
“We assumed a much bigger mandate than what the people had granted us,” Rakestraw says. “We became just like the [Democrats] in terms of spending, as well as on personal and political ethics.”
Sussex County Recorder of Deeds John Brady felt so strongly about the party’s defection from its core values that he bolted for the Democrats last February—not unlike Peterson had done in 1992. Brady insists the decision wasn’t his own. “I didn’t leave the party,” he says. “The party left me.”
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