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In Delaware, State Senate Election Turns Into Referendum On Trump

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

A special election this weekend to fill a vacant state Senate seat in Delaware doesn't sound like something that would get national attention, but it is. For one thing, the candidates have turned it into an early referendum on President Trump. For another, Delaware is one of just six states completely controlled by Democrats. The results of this election could change that. Delaware Public Media's James Dawson reports.

TOM CARPER: Hello, how are you? Come here.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: How are you?

CARPER: How about a hug?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Oh, a big one.

JAMES DAWSON, BYLINE: Earlier this week, both of Delaware's U.S. senators were standing outside a local grocery store to drum up votes for the Democratic candidate, Stephanie Hansen. She's also had former Vice President Joe Biden and former Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley campaign for her. Democrats are shut out of power in Washington and many states, though not Delaware. And this race has become a way for frustrated voters like Thomas Bland to respond to President Donald Trump's first month in office.

THOMAS BLAND: I see it as an outlet. But I also see it as a new beginning for us going forward towards the election for 2018.

DAWSON: Hansen says she has hundreds of campaign volunteers who feel the same way.

STEPHANIE HANSEN: We're seeing the benefit of that on this campaign because this campaign is becoming the vehicle to express that new energy.

DAWSON: The two candidates and their allies have raised more than a million dollars combined since the end of December, an unheard of sum for a state Senate race here. Republicans are also energized. Terri Mingoia has lived in the district for more than 20 years. She says she's tired of Democrats protesting Trump's policies and his Cabinet picks.

TERRI MINGOIA: It's been very chaotic. And there's been a lot of rage and anger.

DAWSON: Mingoia backs Republican John Marino. If he wins, Republicans would control the Delaware Senate for the first time since the 1970s. The former New York City police officer's campaign slogan is a Trump-esque make Delaware first again. But he denies there's any similarity, and says voters should view this as a local, not a national race.

JOHN MARINO: Casting a vote out of frustration of what's going on at the federal level is not the right direction to go.

DAWSON: Marino will find out whether voters are frustrated with Trump on Saturday after the polls close. For NPR News, I'm James Dawson in Dover. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.