Markell and the Future of Delaware democrats

Governor Markell
Governor Markell speaking to his fellow Delaware democrats on election night. Some believe the term limited governor may have ambitions for higher office.


Some political analysts believe a Delawarean without the last name Biden has emerged as a potential candidate in 2016: Gov. Jack Markell. The two-term Democratic governor will be term limited out of the highest office in the First State’s government, and that has led some to believe he may be fit for a higher office.

Jill Lawrence, a contributing editor at U.S. News and World Report, said there is potential for a national Markell campaign. Lawrence said Markell’s experience in the private sector and his age could be advantageous in a primary race. Markell has also received the attention of other political analysts and has appeared on several list of underrated Democratic White House contenders, Lawrence said.

“People have noticed him, and if he was the governor of a much larger state, people would have noticed him a lot more,” Lawrence said.

Lawrence said while she believes Delaware’s small size is not prohibitive, it certainly does not help Markell’s chances as a candidate. Small-state governors like Markell and Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo have received some recognition within political circles.

At the same time, Markell would face issues with national name recognition and his lack of media contact, Lawrence said.

“There is a big vacuum for the Democrats,” Lawrence said. “They obviously have a very shallow bench and a big need for people who will, if not take [Hillary] Clinton on, amplify her message. They need capable people out there.”

Lawrence said Markell could fit the bill, but he would have to make it clear that he is interested in seeking higher office.

If Markell does choose to run, he will likely challenge frontrunner Hillary Clinton, who has gained significant momentum in the last few years. Lawrence said potential Democratic candidates are often unable to criticize Clinton and President Barack Obama.

One way to get around this is to go after Republican candidates instead, a strategy used by former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley. A similar strategy could be used by Gov. Markell.

“There’s a place for these people who say they are her rivals to make a case against Republicans and to show the party how they would stand up and how they would be spokespeople for the party,” Lawrence said. “I think that is a role that would be appreciated and could fill the void until she gets in, and they can make the calculation of if it’s worth taking her on.”

Markell also adds some potentially new elements to the Democratic field. The Democrats need a younger candidate, and Markell provides that, Lawrence said. She said the governor could leverage his more centrist private and public sector background to make a case for taking on Wall Street and economic issues like income equality.

“A centrist is not someone who has to fail in this climate,” Lawrence said. “A centrist is someone who could do very well in the general election and could get through the primary by proving their record and understanding of the problems.”

Lawrence said while a Markell presidential campaign is possible, it’s unlikely he would be a candidate for vice president. Delaware’s small size and Markell’s limited name recognition would mean he would be unable to add many votes to a presidential ticket, Lawrence said. There are too many politicians from bigger swing states with similar resumes who would be more likely vice presidential contenders, she said. Lawrence said a cabinet position or a Senate seat would be more likely alternatives for Markell.

Erik Raser-Schramm, a political consultant and the Vice Chair of the New Castle County Democratic Party, said Markell could make a strong candidate. He specifically cited Markell’s work as chairman of the Democratic Governors Association and the National Governors Association. Markell has also been able to form a coalition in Delaware which he has used to win Race to the Top grants.

“He has definitely done things to elevate himself to national attention, so I wouldn’t write that possibility out,” Raser-Schramm said.

Markell’s office said the governor had not yet made any decisions about what to do after his term expires.

“Governor Markell is focused on making the most of his time in office and has not made any decisions about what to do when his term as Governor is over,” said Markell press secretary Kelly Bachman.

Regardless of Markell’s future plans, term limits will force change in the Delaware gubernatorial scene in 2016. In April 2014, former Attorney General Beau Biden announced his intention to run to succeed Markell in 2016. He also announced he would not seek reelection in order to focus on the campaign.
“Over the past few months, as I’ve been planning to run for reelection, I have also been giving a great deal of thought to running for Governor in 2016,” Biden wrote in a letter to supporters. “After careful consideration, I have concluded that it is not right to ask for your support in 2014, knowing that my focus would be divided between doing my job as Attorney General while at the same time running as a candidate for Governor.”
Two other players also remain on the scene—Attorney General Matt Denn and Rep. John Carney. Raser-Schramm said as of right now he believes both will stay in their current positions. Denn was just elected in 2014 and he still has work to complete in that role, Raser-Schramm said.
While Carney hasn’t started actively campaigning for reelection, he has been fundraising for his campaign, Raser-Schramm said.
Lawrence said the election will likely start heating up soon, with Clinton’s campaign likely announcing next month. However, the exact timeline depends on polling as well as the current Clinton email scandal. Other candidates may decide if they’re in based on how strong they believe Clinton’s campaign to be, Lawrence said.

“I think the Democrats so badly need more voices, that his or anyone else’s with a valid claim would be welcome,” Lawrence said.

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