Posted: Oct. 3, 2006


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

A small stroke does not look as if it will dictate when U.S. Rep. Michael N. Castle calls it a political career, but perhaps an unwritten rule in Delaware politics will.

Castle, a Republican who has spent 25 years in statewide office as a lieutenant governor, governor and congressman, is running for his eighth term as the state's lone member in the U.S. House of Representatives, despite being sidelined temporarily since his stroke on Sept. 23.

In a conference call Saturday with reporters, Castle acknowledged "your health and your energy" are factors to be considered when running for office, but there was nothing he was hearing from his doctors that led him to believe he should get out.

Still, Castle is 67. It means he is nearing what is known as the "John Williams rule" -- a  pronouncement by John J. Williams, a legendary Millsboro Republican who served in the U.S. Senate from 1947 to 1971.

Williams said no member of Congress should run for re-election if it meant serving beyond age 70, and he took his own advice by bowing out when he was 66, even though he would have been a shoo-in for another six-year term.

The rule has been broken. U.S. Sen. William V. Roth Jr., a Republican who benefited from Williams' retirement by winning his seat in 1970, ran for new terms in 1994 when he was 73 and in 2000 when he was 79. The voters gave him the first one, but not the second.

The outcome of Castle's campaign this time probably has more to do with his own health than anything Democrat Dennis Spivack or two minor-party candidates can do. If re-elected as expected, Castle would be 69 when his seat is up again.

Castle did not say this campaign would be his last, but he may have hinted at it during the conference call, when he was asked if he had thought about the "John Williams rule."

"I always thought John Williams had it right," Castle said.

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The term that Kent A. Jordan is supposed to have on the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeal is getting shorter every day.

Jordan, currently a judge on the U.S. District Court, is in line for a lifetime appointment to the higher court, but some of it is dribbling away as he waits to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

A vote was expected last week, but the Senate recessed for the election season without getting around to it. There was no problem, just no vote.

"The only reason was, they ran out of time," said Margaret Aitken, press secretary for U.S. Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., the Delaware Democrat who is a senior member of the Judiciary Committee with jurisdiction over federal judgeships. "It is our expectation that when they reconvene in November, his nomination will be taken up and passed."

Jordan would take the seat vacated by Judge Jane R. Roth, who moved to senior status, or semi-retirement, with a reduced caseload. Although he was nominated by the Republican White House with a recommendation from Castle, the only Republican in the state's congressional delegation, Jordan has the backing of Biden and fellow Senate Democrat Thomas R. Carper.

While Jordan waits, the maneuvering for his spot on the district court is well under way through overtures to Castle's office. A number of lawyers and state judges are interested, but the route to this judgeship ought to be a familiar one.

Of the four district judges, Joseph J. Farnan Jr. and Gregory M. Sleet were once U.S. attorneys and Sue L. Robinson and Jordan were assistant U.S. attorneys. The candidate most likely to be the next judge is Colm F. Connolly, the U.S. attorney who would keep that little circle intact.