Castle to run for Senate

Popular congressman surprises GOP with bid for Joe Biden’s old seat

BY GINGER GIBSON • THE NEWS JOURNAL • OCTOBER 7, 2009

WILMINGTON — Ending months of speculation, Mike Castle set up what could be the nation’s most heated political race next year with his surprise announcement Tuesday that he will be running for the U.S. Senate.

Standing in the shade with his wife, Jane, the 70-year-old Republican made the announcement at a low-key news conference in Wilmington’s Tubman-Garrett Riverfront Park in front of a small crowd of supporters and members of the media. One of Delaware’s most popular politicians, the nine-term congressman had kept his decision secret even from top Republicans, many of whom thought he might retire.

Republican Party regulars, who had feared the prospect of an election with no big name to top the ticket, seemed to collectively breathe a sigh of relief.

“Thank God he’s running,” said former Republican Gov. Dale Wolf, who was lieutenant governor during Castle’s second term as governor and served as governor for about three weeks when Castle left for his first term in Congress. “We need him now.”

The only missing piece for a political clash that could become the most expensive in Delaware history and attract wide national attention is whether Attorney General Beau Biden, as expected, will also seek the seat held until last year by his father, Vice President Joe Biden.

Castle’s decision follows months of intense lobbying from high-profile Republicans such as Arizona Sen. John McCain, the GOP’s 2008 presidential candidate. Castle kept supporters and opponents in suspense for months about whether he would retire or run for the Senate. He had already said he had little interest in seeking re-election to the House.

Castle said he expects Beau Biden to be his opponent, but has not spoken with him.

Beau Biden isn’t offering any hints.

“I just got back from a year in Iraq,” Biden said after Castle’s announcement. “I’m spending time with my family. I’m getting back to work and there will be time to make a decision.”

Joe Biden has said repeatedly that he wants to see his son hold his former seat. Castle said he tried to call Joe Biden on Tuesday morning to let him know he would be seeking the office Biden wants for his son. Castle said he was unable to reach the vice president and spoke with his chief of staff.

Castle said he thought it would be “inappropriate” to call Beau Biden directly because he does not know him, but called his father because he considers him a friend.

Sam Hoff, a political science professor at Delaware State University, said the time could be right for Beau Biden to run for the Senate, especially since the winner in 2010 will have the best position in 2014.

“The old adage, ‘Strike while the iron is hot,’ is something that Beau is going to have to think about,” Hoff said.

A Castle-Biden race would have huge ramifications, not just locally, but nationally, since it could break the Democrats’ nominally filibuster-proof majority in the Senate. And that would mean a lot of money flowing in from donors.

“I would expect whoever runs on the other side to raise a significant amount of money,” Castle said.

Fundraising was part of the reason Castle said he announced his intentions so early. But Castle added that Beau Biden played a role in deciding when to go public with his Senate bid.

“We knew Beau was coming back from Iraq … and I didn’t want make the announcement until that was over,” Castle said.

High-dollar campaign

Hoff said he foresees candidates raising up to $1 million a day at the height of the campaign. “We’re going to be looking at not just reaching but smashing some of the financial records in terms of spending.”

Hoff said the state could also see politicians of national stature — perhaps President Barack Obama — campaigning in Delaware.

“You would most likely see Joe [Biden] call in some favors,” Hoff said.

Castle may face a primary with fellow Republican Christine O’Donnell, who ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate in 2006 and 2008, and who said she plans to run again.

Castle said he would like to avoid a primary going into next year’s election.

“Primaries always make things more difficult,” he said.

O’Donnell said after Castle’s announcement that she’s staying in the race.

“I have absolutely no plans of withdrawing,” she said “I have the utmost respect for Congressman Castle. I hope it will be a respectful primary about the issues.”

John Daniello, chairman of the Delaware Democratic Party, said he will not comment on who he expects to be his party’s candidate, but he expects that person to win.

“I think all of us are underestimating the knowledge of our constituency,” Daniello said. “When the marbles are down, it will be about which candidate can best do the job for the state of Delaware, and that’s where I think we will come out on top.”

When Castle called Delaware Democratic Sen. Tom Carper with the news Tuesday morning, Carper wished him well. But Castle’s bid sets up a “tough situation” for Carper.

He considers Castle a good friend and views him as a formidable candidate. But he’s also supportive of Beau Biden. Carper expects Biden to run for the remainder of his father’s Senate term.

“I’d be very surprised if he doesn’t,” Carper said during an interview Tuesday.

Carper said the potential race would be a “clash of the titans.”

“If they run against each other, it will be one for the records,” Carper said.

Carper’s intentions

Waiting for the 2012 Senate election may not be an option for Biden. Carper said he intends to run for re-election when his term expires then.

“You know how some people hedge and they say, ‘Oh, I’ll decide when I get closer and see how I feel?’ ” Carper said with a laugh. “No. I think I’ll run.”

Even in the hours before Castle’s announcement, many members of the inner circle of the state Republican party didn’t know what Castle was going to do.

But when Castle made his decision public, they were excited to hear Castle would be running for the upper chamber.

After serving two terms as governor, Castle was elected to the U.S. House in 1993, when he left office to assume the congressional post.

Though Democrats hold majorities in Delaware and Washington, former Gov. Wolf believes Castle has extraordinary crossover appeal.

“A lot of Democrats and independents vote for Mike,” Wolf said. “They respect him, and they’ve seen him take up their causes.”

Republican strategist Don Mell said he thinks Castle’s history of civility and willingness to work across the aisle will be translated into the campaign, keeping the discussion away from attacks by the candidates.

“I think he made the right decision for himself and for Delaware,” Mell said. “He’ll set a tone for bipartisanship that we’re lacking in Washington.”

State Rep. Tom Kovach, who is rumored to be interested in running for Castle’s House seat, said he thinks Castle will provide a strong top of the ticket for Republicans. Last November, Republicans took a beating, losing every statewide election except Castle’s and losing majority control of the state House.

Kovach, R-Brandywine Hundred, said he sees Castle as a strong leader that the party will be able to rally behind going into the midterm elections.

“I’m just so happy that Congressman Castle has announced,” Kovach said.

State Republican Party Chairman Tom Ross thinks Castle can provide a moderate voice for the state.

“In these troubled times, Delawareans of all political backgrounds should be thrilled that Mike Castle will bring his integrity, knowledge and common-sense approach to the United States Senate.” Ross said. “The 2010 election will be an exciting one, and with Mike Castle leading the way, I’m confident of our success.”