Posted: Nov. 10, 2009


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

The day before the health care vote, the Democrats gave Mike Castle the full treatment.

The Democrats had their sights on 32 Republicans in the House of Representatives, all of them coming from districts President Barack Obama carried, but they saved something extra for the nine-term congressman and ex-governor from Delaware.

Castle was the only one that had the Democratic National Committee cranking up a press conference Friday and enlisting local leaders like state Chair John Daniello and state Rep. Helene Keeley to take him on.

Why Castle? Maybe because he is running for the Senate next year in a race that looks like his opponent will be the son of the Democratic vice president who had the seat himself for 36 years?

"It was all about the Senate," said Priscilla Rakestraw, the Republican national committeewoman for Delaware. "The Democratic National Committee and the Delaware Democrats are afraid a) that Beau will run and b) that he won't, that he will run and they'll lose the seat or that he won't run and they'll lose the seat."

The Democrats did not even try to be subtle about their press conference having as much or more to do about Castle's candidacy than about his vote Saturday on the health care legislation.

"We don't think think this is going to help him in his bid for the Senate next year," said Alec Gerlach, the Democratic National Committee's regional press secretary, who handles Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, Washington, D.C. and points west.

Not that Castle scared. He voted no along with all the other House Republicans -- except for Rep. Anh "Joseph" Cao, a freshman who was a fluky winner in an overwhelmingly Democrat district in New Orleans. It was what Cao had to do not to look like a human levee to a constituency that was walloped by Katrina.

The shape of the roll call was not a surprise. The Democrats knew all along they would have to find the votes within their own majority, and they did.

For all of the hoopla from the Democratic National Committee, the press conference zeroed on Castle came across as rather colorless.

Daniello said what he had to say -- "I hope Rep. Castle chooses to stand with the people he represents and not his party" -- but he sounded like a man trapped in an infomercial. He bailed as soon as he could.

It did not help that Daniello mistakenly referred to Castle as "Senator Castle" before correcting himself. Maybe it was Freudian, or maybe it was a flashback. Daniello was a Cabinet officer in the mid-1970s when Castle was, in fact, "Senator Castle" -- a state senator.

Daniello said later he meant to call Castle a "wanna-be senator" but mangled it.

The Republican Party did not fare much better that day. Once the Democrats muscled up on Castle, the Republicans tried to change the subject by bringing up John Carney, the former Democratic lieutenant governor running for the Congress, so far with no Republican opposition.

Tom Ross, the Republican state chair, issued a statement demanding to know where Carney stood -- "Is John Carney going to side with Nancy Pelosi and extremist liberals, or will he side with Delawareans who want to keep their health care decisions between them and their doctor?"

 It did not exactly resonate.

"I did not see it, and nobody called me about it," Carney said.

Meanwhile, Castle himself tried a more measured approach.

Health care legislation, he said, should expand coverage and cut costs, but the Democrats are not doing enough to cut costs and the Republicans are not doing enough to expand coverage. He voted against the House bill because he did not think it contained costs enough.

Nor did Castle's no vote Saturday mean no never. "Not necessarily. I will pay attention to what they do in the Senate and obviously from there, what happens in conference," he said.

It sounded like his answer to the Democrats' press conference. Moderation in pursuit of the Senate is no vice, not here in Delaware, anyway.