Political newcomer Lydia York won Delaware’s Democratic primary for state auditor on Tuesday against embattled incumbent Kathy McGuiness, who is awaiting sentencing on criminal corruption charges.
York, an attorney who was endorsed by the state Democratic party, had both outraised and outspent McGuiness during the campaign. York previously served as one of three of Delaware's Democratic presidential electors in 2016. She will now face Republican Janice Lorrah, also a political newcomer, in the November general election.
York said voters opted for "competence and clarity and leadership," but acknowledged that McGuiness’ legal troubles played a significant role in the campaign.
"It had to, because this was historic for the state of Delaware," she said. "I think the voters felt a certain way about that."
McGuiness is the first statewide elected official in Delaware's history to be found guilty of criminal charges while in office. She is awaiting sentencing on misdemeanor counts of conflict of interest and official misconduct — charges that stemmed from the hiring of her daughter as a part-time employee in the auditor's office.
McGuiness said she planned to call York to congratulate her on the win
"I have been a public servant long before I was a state auditor, and really not going anywhere anytime soon," said McGuiness, adding, "It’s not something where I am sad or my heart is sore, because I know how hard I worked and the effort that was put into it."
A jury convicted McGuiness of the misdemeanors in July, but acquitted her on felony charges of theft and witness intimidation. The judge later tossed the procurement conviction.
McGuiness had rejected repeated calls from several elected Democrats and party officials to step aside, both after she was indicted last October and again her conviction. A state Senate resolution to have her booted from office fizzled when House Speaker Pete Schwartzkopf, a longtime ally of McGuiness, refused to go along.
"McGuiness has got legal issues ... It seems pretty serious," said Melanie Eleuterio, 69, a retired school psychologist from Magnolia who voted for York.
Campaign finance reports show York raised and spent more money than McGuiness in their primary contest. As of Sept. 5, York reported raising $62,415 and spending $62,095.26 since establishing a campaign committee in late May, while McGuiness reported raising $33,770 since January and spending $43,574.19.
In a surprise visit, President Joe Biden traveled to Delaware to vote in his home state Tuesday, even though he could have voted by mail or absentee ballot, like thousands of other Delawareans. Almost 12,000 absentee and vote-by-mail ballots had been returned by Tuesday afternoon, and more than 4,800 people took advantage of early in-person voting under a law that came into effect this year.
Overall, roughly 71,000 votes were cast in Tuesday’s primary, representing about 12% of the electorate. All 362,000 registered Democrats in Delaware were eligible to vote, but not all of 209,350 registered Republicans could cast ballots because there was no statewide GOP contest.
In legislative races, Republican Sen. Colin Bonini finished last in a three-way primary in Senate District 16 and will give up the Dover-area seat he has held for 28 years. Kent County Levy Court commissioner Eric Buckson led the GOP primary with more votes than the combined total for Bonini and runner-up Kim Petters.
Kyra Hoffner of Leipsic was leading a five-way Democratic primary in state Senate District 14, where Bruce Ennis of Smyrna is retiring after 40 years in the legislature. Ennis has been a lone conservative Democratic voice in the state Senate for years.
In state House races, six Democratic incumbents faced primary challengers, with Rep. Nnamdi Chukwuocha of Wilmington holding a slight lead over his opponent hours after the polls closed, and Majority Whip John Mitchell of Elsmere narrowly trailing in his race.
Kerri Evelyn Harris, who made an unsuccessful bid to unseat U.S. Sen. Tom Carper in 2018, easily won a four-way Democratic primary for the Dover seat left open by state Rep. Andria Bennett’s retirement.
Rep. Bryan Shupe of Milford was the only House Republican facing a primary challenge and easily defeated newcomer Patrick Smith.
Regardless of Tuesday’s results, there is little danger that Democrats will lose control of the House or Senate in November.