In a year in which the political status quo is being shattered left and right, the state of Delaware is on the verge of breaking two of its own highest glass ceilings.
Democrat Lisa Blunt Rochester is running for the state's only U.S. House seat on Tuesday, with polls and analysts predicting a comfortable win over Republican Hans Reigle.
A victory would make Blunt Rochester, 54, the first woman and first African American elected to Congress from Delaware, a state where one of every five voters is black.
Blunt Rochester, who was the state's first black female labor secretary, won her primary over a slate that included two progressive, well-known, white male candidates.
"African American and women voters were key in giving her the nomination," said University of Delaware pollster and professor Paul Brewer. He called her prospective win "historically overdue."
Blunt Rochester made the decision to run after the sudden death of her husband two years ago, and used the life-insurance money to help finance the race. On Wednesday, she sat down with the Inquirer. Here is an edited version of that conversation.
Q: You have never before run for elected office. Tell me how you feel this is the right thing to be doing right now?
A: It was almost like I felt compelled and motivated.
Q: Your father, Ted Blunt, was Wilmington City Council president. You have served as deputy Health and Social Services secretary and director of the State Personnel Office. But being an actual candidate is different, no?
A: I'm no stranger to people running for office because it's been a part of my lifeblood, even as a kid. ... My dad, when I told him I was going to run, that I was even considering it, you could see there was almost this, like, a cautious excitement. On the one hand, he was excited for me because he knew the year that I had had before in terms of grieving and in terms of just the challenges of transitioning in my own life. But at the same time, I think he also just had, like, a confidence in me.
Q: How did you meet your second and late husband, Charles Rochester Jr., about whom you have spoken so much on the campaign trail?
A: We were both at the University of Delaware in 1981 at the same time, but didn't meet. Knew all the same people. ... After I ended my marriage and he ended a 10-year relationship, we were both invited to a mutual friend's house for Christmas brunch, December 2003. ... I didn't think he even noticed me. ... My best friend, a few days later, she got an email from him saying, 'What's the 411 on your girl?'
[For their first date, the pair met over pizza, right before he flew back to China, where Charles worked as an engineering-firm executive.]
We kissed in that parking lot for half an hour. In the stars, in the cold. [Laughing] People were walking by.
Q: Why has it taken so long for Delaware to have a woman, and an African American in Congress, given how key both have been to Democratic Party success there? What have been the barriers?
A: One is money. The other is even access to opportunities, I think. I've been fortunate that I've been able to serve in these different roles that prepared me for this moment.
Q: What sort of enthusiasm are you finding on the trail for, aside from your policies, the fact that you are a woman and you are an African American woman?
A: Today, a young woman came up to me and said, 'This is my first time voting and I'm so excited that I'm going to get to vote for you.'