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Gov. John Carney easily defeats Democratic challenger, faces Republican who is suing him

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Gov. John Carney easily staved off his single Democratic opponent in Tuesday's primary election.

But the real battle will be against Republican Julianne Murray in November, where the governor's reelection bid will turn into a referendum on Delaware's response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Murray came on top out of an abnormally large, six-person crowd of Republicans who decided to take on Carney this year by campaigning largely against his handling of the pandemic that has relied on guidance from public health officials. Republicans across the state, like her, are pushing for what they see as a more business-friendly reopening plan.

Carney, 64, won his Democratic primary with 85 percent of the vote against 54-year-old accountant David Lamar Williams.

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Williams wanted to implement a four-day work week across the state, attract businesses in the tech industry and legalize recreational marijuana.

Murray, a 50-year-old attorney in Georgetown who is representing her husband in a lawsuit against Carney over his coronavirus restrictions, most notably defeated Colin Bonini, a 55-year-old Dover senator who ran for governor in 2016 and lost to Carney with about 39 percent of the vote. 

Bonini was the perceived frontrunner for this election before Murray was endorsed by the Delaware Republican Party. He got about 35 percent of the vote versus Murray's 41 percent.

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Murray also defeated Bryant Richardson, a 73-year-old Seaford senator; Dave Graham, a 66-year-old tax auditor from Smyrna; David Bosco, a 48-year-old airsoft sports complex owner in Greenwood; and Scott Walker, 69 of Wilmington, who failed to unseat Democratic U.S. Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester in 2018.

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Murray, who lives in Seaford, has marketed herself as a political outsider and will hinge her campaign against Carney's unprecedented regulations to combat the spread of the virus.

"People are tired of career politicians, and I was directing that at John Carney, but Colin has been a senator for 25 years," Murray said after Tuesday's win. "The fact that I’m the political outsider is huge."

She said her priorities in the race will be supporting the police and "ending the long state of emergency and lockdown we’ve been under."

"We’ve got to get small businesses back open," she said.

It's unclear how effective she'll be in November against Carney's home advantage that includes more than $450,000 on hand for his campaign.

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In a normal year, Carney's reelection would be a relatively safe bet in a state where nearly half its voters are registered Democrats.

But the coronavirus pandemic could complicate his path to four more years. Carney, a moderate, has faced criticism since the spring for his state of emergency restrictions to mitigate the spread of the virus. Closures to businesses and beaches, along with mask orders, have prompted protests from frustrated residents who want the state to reopen sooner than planned and often disagree with social distancing guidelines.

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Carney has consistently said he is basing his reopening decisions on science and put the restrictions in place to save lives. It's unclear how much his shutdown and reopening strategy over the past six months, followed by more than 100,000 people filing for unemployment in the state, have affected his popularity.

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While Bonini's name recognition and political stature were expected to play in his favor this time around, Murray is a testament to how voters' priorities have changed over the past six months due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Parents have watched their children suffer through a stunted education system, and residents across the state are struggling to get a paycheck due to business closures and staff cuts. Purportedly simple concepts like masks have become severe points of contention, and Delawareans of all political leanings fear the toll that the virus could take on human lives and the economy in the fall and winter.

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Racial justice and policing have also come to the forefront in the wake of incidents like that of George Floyd, a Black man who died after a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes last spring.

Shannon Marvel McNaught contributed to this story.

Sarah Gamard covers government and politics for Delaware Online/The News Journal. You can reach her at (302) 324-2281 or You can also follow her on Twitter @SarahGamard.