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For the past few years, Delaware politicos have engaged in rampant speculation about which Democrats would vie to succeed Gov. John Carney.
Many thought one or both of “The Kathys” — Attorney General Jennings or state Auditor McGuiness — would seek the post in the 2024 election. But Jennings never made any moves toward launching a campaign, and also prosecuted McGuiness for corruption, leading to the auditor’s defeat in her bid for re-election last year and her disappearance from the political scene.
There was talk that House Majority Leader Valerie Longhurst might run. But she became speaker of the House in June, silencing that chatter.
Some also mentioned state housing authority director and former Wilmington mayoral candidate Eugene Young, as well as state Sen. Sarah McBride. But Young and McBride are now in a three-way race with state Treasurer Colleen Davis for Delaware’s lone seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.
The congressional incumbent, U.S. Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester, had also figured in the gubernatorial race discussions. Instead, she’s running to succeed U.S. Sen. Tom Carper, who is not seeking a fifth term.
Amid all the machinations, maneuverings, and predictions, however, two elected politicians have lasered in on the governor’s office.
One announced candidate is second-term New Castle County Executive Matt Meyer, a lawyer and former teacher who told WHYY News last year that he didn’t get into politics just to run Delaware’s largest county.
Meyer announced his candidacy during a radio interview in June, and said last week to stay tuned for an event where he will formally launch his bid.
The other candidate is Lt. Gov. Bethany Hall-Long, a former state legislator who has doggedly increased her public profile by targeting opioid addiction and behavioral health for nearly seven years as Carney’s understudy.
Last week, Hall-Long declared her intention to succeed Carney during an event attended by dozens of fellow politicians and supporters at the Wilmington riverfront.
The Sept. 10, 2024, primary election is still a year away, and other Democrats have plenty of time to enter the race, but for now, Meyer and Hall-Long are the only ones staking their claim for the most powerful post in state government.
No Republican has yet announced plans to face the primary winner in the November 2024 election, and state party chair Julianna Murray did not return calls for comment on the party’s plans.
Democrats have held the governor’s post since 1992, and dominate the voter registration rolls and both chambers of the General Assembly while holding all nine statewide elective posts.
Carney, who by law can’t seek a third four-year term, has already thrown his support behind Hall-Long, who trumpeted his endorsement less than 24 hours after her announcement. In an interview with WHYY News, Carney explained why he thinks his “incredible partner” should succeed him.
“She’d be the best governor because she understands the people of our state. She knows them, and they know her, and she’s ready to lead,’’ said Carney, who also served two terms as lieutenant governor under the state’s first female governor, Ruth Ann Minner.
Bethany Hall-Long is in her second term as lieutenant governor. (State of Delaware)
Carney said Hall-Long’s experience in what can often be a “thankless job,’’ her career as a nurse and nursing professor, and her deep ties statewide — she grew up in Sussex County, and was a state senator in a district that encompassed the area from the Middletown to near Newark — would serve the state well.
“She knows the state, she knows the people, she knows what we need,’’ Carney said, “And she’ll be a great leader. She’ll be a leader that brings everybody together. And I think today that is about as important as anything.”
In the coming months, voters can expect to get inundated with emails, snail mail fliers, robocalls, social media postings, and press pronouncements from Meyer and Hall-Long.
The candidates will be holding campaign events up and down the state to persuade the populace, all while holding dinners, lunches, and other gatherings to raise the million or more dollars needed to finance their bids.
But now that the two candidates are in the ring, both spoke with WHYY News to outline their accomplishments and platforms.
Bethany Hall-Long, a registered nurse and professor, gives a coronavirus vaccine. (State of Delaware)
‘You give a nurse a job, the job gets done’
Hall-Long, 59, is aiming to become Delaware’s second female governor and follow in the footsteps of the late Ruth Ann Minner, who held office from 2001 to 2009 after eight years as lieutenant governor herself.
The longtime member of the University of Delaware’s nursing faculty also said that if elected, she’d become the first nurse in U.S. history to serve as a governor.
“My record of service and vision, to know Delaware and lead us into the future, is absolutely critical,’’ Hall-Long said during a break in campaigning. “And while our state’s made progress, there is still a lot of work to do.”
If elected, Hall-Long said she would continue efforts to bolster “an economy that really works for everyone,” would push programs to “creatively expand and access to health care for families, including reproductive health care,” and would be relentless in “strengthening our education system” by starting well before pre-school.
“I am ready to make Delaware the place for people to live, work, or raise a family,” Hall-Long said, “And I’m ready on day one. I have been in the arena. And as a nurse, it’s always said you give a nurse a job, the job gets done.”
On the economic front, she would prioritize “making sure people have good-paying jobs and an environment where small and big business can thrive,” she said, perhaps by using state dollars to continue the push for more green energy.
Hall-Long says she would support early education programs “from birth to age 5,” work to make child care more affordable, and encourage schools to create even more pathways to good jobs in middle school and high school curricula.
“We’ve got to have jobs so that people can have affordable health care, so that people can have access to early education and universal care and housing,’’ she said. “I want every kid, no matter their zip code, to have that opportunity for a solid career or a solid opportunity for college. But it starts early and it works in partnerships with our communities and our public schools.”
Beyond affordable health care, Hall-Long stressed her role as co-creator and chair of the state’s Behavioral Health Consortium, an advisory body that works toward solutions to the crisis of addiction, mental health challenges, and co-occurring disorders.
Bethany Hall-Long (center) supports restrictions on firearms. (State of Delaware)
Delaware is reeling from record overdose deaths linked to the explosion of fentanyl, and Hall-Long said she has been leading the way to combat the plague.
“I do see hope and I do see a light,’’ she said. “But somewhere today, there is a family member mourning the loss of a child or a parent. I get it. You know, I’m on the streets and I go door to door and we’re handing out Narcan, saving people on the streets. We’ve given out fentanyl test strips. We are doing all hands on deck. But this will take time.”
Hall-Long also noted that although she’s a professor with a doctoral degree at the state’s flagship university, she grew up on a farm in Dagsboro and attended public schools, graduating from Indian River High.
Left unsaid was that Meyer attended the expensive private Friends School near Wilmington and the Ivy League’s Brown University.