Pete du Pont, the Republican governor who turned around Delaware and would have been a strong contender had he run for the U.S. Senate against Joe Biden in 1986, died yesterday in Wilmington at 86. Du Pont ran an unsuccessful presidential campaign in 1988 in which he was bested by George H.W. Bush, and dropped out after the New Hampshire primary. Du Pont was also chairman of National Review Institute for three years in the 90s and wrote a regular column for the Wall Street Journal.
A graduate of Exeter, Princeton and Harvard Law School, Pierre Samuel du Pont IV was a wealthy scion of Delaware’s leading family. Democrats who had little of substance with which to attack him instead mocked his name and upbringing. After a stint in his family chemical business, du Pont won a seat in Congress in 1968, then won the governorship in 1976. He inherited a state deep in debt but got Delaware back on track by reining in spending and wooing new business with deregulatory reforms. He was reelected in 1980 with 71 percent of the vote and made Delaware a leading haven for banks with more deregulation. A surprisingly admiring obit in the New York Times notes:
The governor’s approval ratings approached 90 percent. By the time he left office in 1985, the state’s economy was humming, with unemployment down to 7 percent from a high of 13 percent; the top tax rate cut in half, and state budgets were balanced every year of his tenure. Even the Democrats praised his performance.
In 1988, du Pont ran on a libertarian-leaning platform that included school vouchers, ending farm subsidies and a plan that would have allowed Americans to choose private investment accounts in lieu of Social Security.
The Times obit notes that as a young man du Pont once had a blind date with Jane Fonda, not understanding who the girl was until her father, Henry, answered the door.