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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Political science professor Joseph Pika of the University of Delaware sees a parallel between national and local affairs. “Republicans have lost their moderates,” he says. “What’s left right now is a national Republican Party dominated by conservative Southern and Western interests.”
The state party is a reflection of the national party and national trends, Pika says. That means independents here have chosen sides based on where they live. In moderate Republican districts, independents have sided with Democrats. Independents in conservative districts moved to the Republicans.
Former Republican Senate Minority Leader Charlie Copeland, a candidate for lieutenant governor last year, says Republicans have spent too much time preaching to the choir. “We have not communicated our solutions to a broader audience,” he says. “We spend a lot of time talking to ourselves. That’s not helpful, and it has to change for Republicans to be successful.”
Former Republican House Majority Leader Wayne Smith sees a change in Delaware’s demographics as the cause of a disconnect between the party and the electorate. He believes immigration of residents from states like Pennsylvania and New Jersey has turned the state more Democrat.
“Even the Republicans who have located here from those states are the more moderate, [Arlen] Specter Republicans,” Smith says. He adds that 14 of 41 districts were predominantly Republican in 2002. By last year, the number dropped to four of 41.
Copeland believes learning from past Republican successes—and failures—may point the way to a more successful future. That starts with government spending.
“When [Newt] Gingrich introduced the Contract For America back in 1994, when Republicans captured the House, government spending was held to a level that matched the rate of inflation and the population growth,” Copeland says. He recalls 434 of 435 House Republican candidates signing off on Republican values as reflected in the contract.
But that didn’t last long. “The Republicans who took the House in 1994 had self-limited themselves to three terms,” Copeland says. “But after those representatives retired following that third term, they were replaced by Republicans who were no longer committed to those self-imposed term limits.”
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