Castle candidacy threatens Democrats' 60-seat supermajority

 

Congressman-at-Large Mike Castle has announced that he is running for the U.S. Senate seat held for 36 years by Vice President Joe Biden. The current incumbent, longtime Biden aide and Delaware political consultant Ted Kaufman, is not running in the 2010 election to fill the remaining four years of the term to which Biden was elected in 2008 by a 65%-35% margin.
 
Castle has one of the least conservative voting records of House Republicans and has held elective office in Delaware since 1966, with one four-year hiatus. He was elected state representative in 1966, state senator in 1968 and 1972, lieutenant governor in 1980, governor in 1984 and 1988, and congressman-at-large in 1988, 1990, 1992, 1994, 1996, 1998, 2000, 2002, 2004, 2006 and 2008. Since Delaware elects only one congressman, Castle has held statewide elective office for the last 29 years. In 2008 he was reelected 61%-38% while the Obama-Biden ticket was carrying Delaware 62%-37%. In other words, about one-quarter of Delaware voters split their tickets to vote for Castle.
 
The likely Democratic nominee is Beau Biden, Joe Biden’s son, who was elected state Attorney General (listed on the ballot as Joseph R. Biden III) in 2006 by a 53%-47% margin. That's a win, but a lower percentage than many Democrats have been winning lately in statewide races. Biden has recently returned from service as a military reservist in Iraq and is widely expected to be a candidate for the Senate. You may remember the impressive speech he gave introducing his father at the Democratic National Convention in August 2008. After his father’s election as vice president, Beau Biden said he did not want to be considered for appointment to the seat.
 
A recent Rasmussen poll showed Castle leading Beau Biden by a 47%-42% margin. A PPP poll showed Castle leading Biden 44%-36%. Psephologist Nate Silver has decided to break his rule on changing his Senate race rankings only once a month because of Castle’s decision, and rates the likelihood of a party change in this seat as “north of” 60%.
 
I tend to agree. Unlike some races—check out the current New Jersey governor’s race—in which both major party candidates have high negatives, this is likely to be a race in which both candidates have high positives. Delaware is a small state and voters expect to and do see and talk to their officeholders, including members of Congress, routinely. It even has a charming custom, dating back to 1792, in which winning and losing candidates appear in a “Return Day” parade in the Sussex County seat of Georgetown the day after each election. It is not coincidental that successful Delaware politicians, including Castle, both Bidens and Senator and former Governor and Congressman Tom Carper, tend to be very nice and friendly people. Delawareans wouldn’t keep electing a sourpuss or a sarcastic or supercilious politician.
 
For that reason I expect to see less movement in the poll numbers in this Delaware race than in contests in larger states where candidates are remote figures known to voters only in television commercials and occasional newscasts. Delaware voters know Mike Castle very well and if they haven’t known Beau Biden for many years they have certainly known his father very well.
 
Why would Castle, who is 70, decide to take on a risky Senate race rather than run a sure-thing race for reelection to the House? As a member of the minority party in the House, he isn’t in a position to have much impact on legilstaion. In the Senate—and particularly a Senate which, as Nate Silver speculates, could well have more moderate Republicans and fewer Democrats than it does today—he could play a pivotal role on legislation. And he would have a six-year rather than a two-year term; whether he would want to run for reelection in 2016, at 77, is a question I suspect he is happy to put off until later. His decision is a fine recruiting coup for National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn. Castle often votes against his conservative Republican colleagues and often against Democrats as well, but I think that most on both sides would concede that he is a thoughtful politician who takes the task of deciding public policy issues seriously.
 

Silver’s headline on his blogpost reads, “Is 60 Seat Majority Doomed?” It’s a good question, considering that Republicans are ahead or around even in polls in the races for Democratic-held Senate races in Nevada, Connecticut, Colorado, Pennsylvania and now Delaware—all states Obama carried—and in Arkansas as well, while Democrats are around even or slightly ahead in the races for Republican-held Senate seats in Missouri, Ohio and Kentucky.

 

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