Delaware ends primary voting, setting up historic November

Kameleon007/iStock

By KENDALL KARSON and MEG CUNNINGHAM, ABC News

(WASHINGTON) -- Delaware, which was crowned the First State in 1787, is the last to hold statewide primaries this year before Election Day in November.

The state closes out a primary season scuttled by the coronavirus pandemic -- which saw messy elections, drastic changes to expand vote-by-mail and intensifying anxiety over the chaos that could potentially come in less than 50 days -- and one that could usher in a series of historic firsts in the fall, beyond the mechanics of how the general election will run.

The curtain closer in Delaware brings some of this cycle’s most prominent themes to the fore -- with another incumbent Democrat being flanked from the left and a pitched battle between two Republicans, one of whom is an apparent QAnon supporter, tangling over who is Trumpier.

After some long-established incumbents lost down-ballot races to younger progressive challengers earlier this year, Sen. Chris Coons -- who was first elected in a 2010 special election to fill the seat once held by his close ally former Vice President Joe Biden -- is hoping to avoid that fate in his primary against Jessica Scarane, 35, and earn a second full term. Scarane is running on a platform rooted in key tenets of the progressive movement, such as the Green New Deal and "Medicare for All."

Biden, who cast his ballot early on the eve of the primaries, confidently praised his friend before reporters Monday.

"I like Coons the best," Biden said. "He’s a great, great senator."

On the other side of the race, two Republicans are jockeying for the Senate nomination in a state that has not sent a member of the GOP to the Senate in 20 years.

Jim DeMartino, a twice unsuccessful establishment conservative who is staunchly behind President Donald Trump, is squaring off against Lauren Witzke, 32, a political newcomer labeling herself as an "America First" Republican. Complicating the choice for GOP voters is Witzke’s previous shows of support for the QAnon conspiracy theory, the fringe movement that casts Trump as a crusader against a web of deep state conspiracies and that the Federal Bureau of Investigation has deemed a potential domestic terror threat.

Delaware may be capping off what has been an unprecedented primary cycle but the turn to November could see more notable firsts.

Two years ago, the midterm elections led to a wave of women landing in the halls of Congress, with the female population comprising nearly a quarter of voting members -- a feat that largely fell on Democrats’ shoulders.

Only 13 women were left in the GOP’s ranks after 2018, a striking disparity that ultimately fueled a surge of Republican women running for the House this year.

Of the 583 women who sparred for a congressional seat in this year’s primaries, a record-setting number driven in part by 227 Republican women, 94 became Republican nominees -- setting a new high-water mark, according to the Center for American Women and Politics (CAWP).

This year also saw the most women of color compete in primaries with at least 130 Black women, including 98 Democrats and 32 Republicans, running to serve in both the House and Senate, CAWP reported. Back in early August, the 44 Black women who secured nominations in House races this year eclipsed the previous high of 41 set in 2018.

For the Senate, 60 women filed to run for the upper chamber overall, surpassing 2018’s record of 53, but only 19 went on to win their primaries, which is slightly lower than 2018’s record of 23.

"There's been, in this year, a closing of the party gap among women candidates," Kelly Ditmar, the director of research at CAWP, said in an interview. "But it is still a gap. There are many more Democratic women candidates than there are Republican women candidates."

"There's more potential for gains for Republican women," Ditmar added.

November’s ballot will also feature more contests between two women than ever before, with 51 across House and Senate races.

The all-woman contests make up 11% of all congressional races, according to CAWP, and include matchups in some districts and states that outline both the Senate and House battlefields.

Democrats are putting their weight behind Theresa Greenfield, a businesswoman, to topple Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, who is considered among the most vulnerable senators up for re-election in a state Trump won by about 10 points in 2016.

In Oklahoma, the 5th Congressional District is a top target for Republicans after freshman Democratic Rep. Kendra Horn delivered an upset victory in 2018, winning the traditionally red seat that covers Oklahoma City by just over 3,300 votes. Stephanie Bice, a state lawmaker, who won the Republican primary in a runoff is challenging the lone Democrat in the state’s delegation.

And it’s not just women setting records.

Back in July, a report from the Victory Institute found that a historic number of LGBTQ candidates were pursuing political bids in 2020, a number that landed at just over 1,000. At the polls in November, 547 LGBTQ candidates are set to be on the ballot, a spokesperson for the group told ABC News, surpassing 2018’s total of 432, the first year the organization was tracking all LGBTQ candidates, not just the ones they endorsed.

Among those candidates is Ritchie Torres, an Afro-Latino who is in line to become one of the first openly gay Black members of Congress along with Mondaire Jones, the Democratic nominee in New York’s 17th Congressional District, which includes part of New York’s Westchester and Rockland Counties in New York City’s northern suburbs.

Torres captured the Democratic nomination in New York’s 15th Congressional District, which covers portions of the Bronx, to succeed retiring Rep. Jose Serrano. Jones, an attorney who worked in the Justice Department under President Barack Obama, is expected to replace Rep. Nita Lowey, who is also not seeking re-election.

"With these two candidates, we are on the cusp of achieving history," Alphonso David, the president of the Human Rights Campaign, told ABC News in June after the primary.

The new Congress in 2021 is also expected to inaugurate its youngest member: Madison Cawthorn, who turned 25 in August after he emerged as the surprise winner in North Carolina's 11th Congressional District runoff.

The primary season also brought the fall of some incumbent members of Congress to challengers occupying the ideological wings of either party.

In Virginia’s 5th Congressional District, libertarian-leaning Republican Rep. Denver Riggleman lost his nomination convention to social-conservative Bob Good.

Good, a staunch evangelical who campaigned with a focus on social issues, has a good chance at taking a seat in Congress after ousting Riggleman from the primary. Riggleman was censured by the Virginia GOP for officiating a same-sex marriage between two campaign volunteers.

In Colorado’s 3rd Congressional District, longtime Rep. Scott Tipton lost his primary to ultra-conservative restaurant owner Lauren Boebert, who has also expressed support for the QAnon conspiracy theory.

Progressives across the country have reason to celebrate going into November after successfully ousting a number of long-standing moderate Democrats. In Missouri’s St. Louis-area, Cori Bush, a Black Lives Matter activist who entered into politics after the racial unrest in Ferguson, defeated incumbent Rep. Lacy Clay, who along with his father, former Rep. Bill Clay, held the seat in the family for five decades.

Bush’s win was part of a string of progressive victories this year. Marie Newman, a progressive Democrat who was endorsed by some of the movement’s leaders including Sen. Bernie Sanders, prevailed in her second bid against eight-term Democratic Rep. Dan Lipinski, D-Ill., and progressive challenger Jamaal Bowman, who was backed by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, beat Democratic Rep. Eliot Engel, a 16-term incumbent in New York.

Regardless of November’s outcomes, the primaries brought forward a more diverse and fresher crop of candidates, pushing forward on 2018’s gains into historic territory.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.