Posted: Oct. 14, 2006


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

The Delaware Republicans defied Friday the 13th and won. They scheduled their "Salute at Vicmead," the party's premier fund raiser for the year, on that evening, and for a while there, it looked as though they would go 0-for-2 -- no Vicmead and precious little salute.

The Vicmead Hunt Club, the quintessential Chateau Country enclave that has been home to the gathering for 21 years, implausibly was being renovated, so the Republicans hustled up a substitute location at Bidermann Golf Club to keep themselves in the neighborhood.

The "Salute" was supposed to be directed, as usual, to U.S. Rep. Michael N. Castle, whose seven terms in the Congress and two as governor make him the party's most prominent officeholder, but he had been sidelined for almost three weeks since experiencing a small stroke on Sept. 23.

Party officials arranged to have Jane Castle, the congressman's wife, stand in for him, but when the time came for her to enter the huge, white, nomadic-like tent housing the event, the crowd of about 300 Republicans was asked to welcome not only her, but "her good friend."

They entered, and there stood Mike Castle, looking like himself.

Castle got more than a salute. People were standing, applauding, some even hooting, for his heroic return.

"I'm Jane's good friend. I'll be there for the rest of the campaign. You can count on me from now on," Castle said. "Thanks for the opportunity for you being my coming-out party."

Castle spent about 45 minutes there. He mingled, he drank a beer, he kidded around, telling the crowd, "I am delighted with our statewide candidates. I think they're doing a fantastic job, even you, Tommy Wagner" -- a crack at the state auditor, the only other statewide Republican incumbent.

Party officials insisted they did not know for sure that Castle would show up until about about an hour beforehand, but Castle is such a political warrior, it is his hard to believe he was not pointing himself at this event all along.

"Beyond my wildest expectations," said Priscilla B. Rakestraw, the Republican national committeewoman.

"I'm proud of him for coming out. I think he looks great. It doesn't look like there's anything wrong with him at all," said state Rep. Deborah D. Hudson, a Republican who represents a Hockessin-Greenville district .

For Castle, who is 67, the "Salute" was actually his second public appearance of the day. At noontime he met with reporters at Rockford Park, not far from his house in Wilmington, for a walking press conference, leading a 20-minute jaunt at a decent pace along hilly paths and answering questions about his health to show the extent of his recovery.

Although Castle said he was proceeding a day at a time, he expected to resume a limited campaign schedule that would take him to Delaware State University's homecoming in Dover and perhaps the Apple-Scrapple Festival in Bridgeville on Saturday.

He said the primary effect of the stroke was tiredness, and he was taking aspirin and Plavix to guard against blood clots. He had no doubts he could perform the functions of his office, beginning with a congressional session in November, and not very many more doubts about his re-election prospects against Democrat Dennis Spivack and two minor-party candidates.

"I wouldn't run if I didn't think I could do it," Castle said. "You're always concerned about winning. The polls so far have remained strong."

Castle's medical odyssey is not over yet. His stroke seems to have been the result of a relatively common condition called PFO, or patent foramen ovale, a congenital defect that occurs when an opening between the upper chambers of the heart fails to close after birth. It does not cause strokes but can be an incubator for them.

Castle is talking to his doctors about undergoing an outpatient procedure to seal the flap, generally done between four to six weeks after a stroke, but it has not been scheduled yet.

In the meantime, public life is calling Castle, perhaps louder than his health. "The physicians are not wild about you doing much of anything. I will probably follow doctors' orders, although I'm not sure they want me doing this today," he said.

Friday the 13th was not going to deter Castle, either. "I didn't realize I'd done that until yesterday afternoon. Just another day," he said.

This is America. There were 13 Original Colonies and 13 stripes on the flag. Why not go for it when the calendar says 13?