Attorneys from both political parties have begun to signal interest in running to succeed Matt Denn as Delaware attorney general. And the legal community is beginning to talk about whether several high-profile career prosecutors are considering whether to join the race.
Denn’s decision not to run creates the chance for hopefuls to run for an open seat.
Two attorneys—state Rep. Sean Lynn, D-Dover, and Thomas S. Neuberger, a Republican and founder of The Neuberger Firm—confirmed to Delaware Law Weekly that they are actively considering a campaign. Neither have officially committed to mounting a campaign.
Immediately Delaware lawyers began to buzz about who else might take the plunge, including former AG and U.S. Attorney Charles M. Oberly III and Kathy Jennings, a former top prosecutor at the DOJ, both Democrats. Meanwhile state Republican leaders—who express confidence that they can take the seat—have interviewed 10 would-be candidates to gauge their electoral potential.
Neuberger, who ran an unsuccessful campaign in 1986 against Tom Carper, now the state’s senior U.S. senator, for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, said he was weighing a self-funded campaign on the Republican ticket, aimed at balancing civil liberties with tough enforcement of criminal laws to protect police, women and minorities.
“To provide a choice in this important election, I am in a position where I can give back to the community and pay my own way for a campaign without having to financially burden supporters in these still hard times,” he said in an emailed statement.
Neuberger is currently representing the family of a corrections officer killed in the Feb. 1 takeover of James T. Vaughn Correctional Center in a civil suit against current and former state officials, including Delaware’s past two Democratic governors. He said that he supported restoring the death penalty in first-degree murder cases involving law enforcement officers, correction employees and other victims killed while performing their official duties.
Lynn, known as part of the progressive wing in the Delaware General Assembly, said his potential platform would emphasize juvenile and criminal justice reform, and he committed to working with state Supreme Court Chief Justice Leo E. Strine Jr. on a top-down rewrite to Delaware’s criminal code—an effort which Denn has so far resisted.
He also said that as attorney general he would institute a policy directing the DOJ not to seek the death penalty, should the legislature reinstate capital punishment this session.
Lynn, who has started his own family and criminal law practice in Dover, said that he had already formed an exploratory committee and planned to reach a final decision on whether to run by the end of the month or early November.
Jennings and Oberly, who served three terms as attorney general, were each mulling the race, sources said. But observers said they do expect to see them run against each other in the Democratic primary.
Oberly could not be reached for comment, and Jennings did not return a call seeking comment for this story.
Mullaney stressed his experience in the DOJ helping troubled youths and preventing child abuse in his campaign announcement, which was first reported by Delaware State News.
Meanwhile, the state Republican Party has formed a committee of lawyers from all three counties to vet attorneys who have expressed interest in the post. The committee, headed by state GOP committeeman Laird Stabler, has so far interviewed about 10 attorneys but has yet to agree on one to back in the election next fall, sources said.
Neuberger contacted the selection committee Monday night to relay his interest, and the panel was expected to set up an interview.
It was not clear who else in the GOP had expressed interest in running, but a source close to the committee said the field included assistant U.S. attorneys, deputy attorneys general and judges, who were not ready to express their plans publicly.
In Delaware, judges and deputy attorney generals are required by law to resign their positions when running for attorney general.
Ted Kittila, the Republican who ran against Denn in 2014, is seen as an unlikely candidate after starting a corporate law practice back in January.
Democrats, who have held the Attorney General’s Office since 2005, are favored to win next November. However, Republicans see an opportunity in the statewide election, especially if there is a Democratic primary between younger progressives like Lynn and establishment favorites like Oberly or Jennings.
“I think a Republican has a tremendous opportunity to win the state,” said Michael Harrington Sr., state Republican Party chair.
The GOP selection committee is expected to announce its preferred candidate in January. While Republican leaders are hoping to avoid a primary battle, there is nothing to prevent a challenger from competing for the party’s official endorsement at the state GOP convention next summer.
Under current rules, the party can endorse a candidate but can’t use party funds to back its pick until after the primary, unless if the candidate is running unopposed.
The statewide primary is set for Sept. 11, 2018, and the general election is scheduled for Tuesday, Nov. 6. Candidates must file with the Delaware Department of Elections by July 10.