Posted: Feb. 9, 2007


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

The timing probably could have been better when the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the political arm for the House Democrats, sent an operative to Delaware last Friday.

The operative's mission was to meet with state Democratic Party officials to lay some groundwork for targeting U.S. Rep. Michael N. Castle, one of the last Republicans standing not only statewide in Delaware but in congressional delegations in the entire Northeast.

One problem with the timing was that while the operative, who is based in Washington, was here, all of the party's top officers were there.

The leaders, including state Chair John D. Daniello, were in the capital for the Democratic National Committee's winter meeting. Alexander Snyder-Mackler, the party's communications director, was left to cobble something together with Bret Wask, the House Democrats' regional political director, at state headquarters near New Castle.

Another problem with the timing was Castle himself. One prime reason for Wask's visit was that the House Democrats put Castle at the top of their watch list for retirements, as was first reported earlier this week by Roll Call, a Capitol Hill newspaper. It made sense -- because Castle is 67, he had a small stroke in September, and his tally of 57 percent of the vote in 2006 was a significant drop from his customary 70 percent -- but Castle is not ready to go.

"We chalk it up to wishful thinking," said Elizabeth B. Wenk, the congressman's deputy chief of staff. "He's not going to be retiring anytime soon. He's in it to win."

Even without Castle's retirement, the House Democrats have plenty of incentive to try to win Delaware's lone seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. The Democrats in 2006 ousted serious numbers of Northeast Republicans, including notables like Rhode Island Sen. Lincoln Chafee and Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, so the ones who are left are chief targets of opportunity.

Castle also happens to be one of eight House Republicans with districts that Democrat John Kerry carried in the last presidential race. Kerry polled 53 percent of the vote here.

Up until now, the House Democrats have not bothered with Castle, a former governor whose eight terms in the House are a Delaware record. He simply seemed too formidable, and there is still one key ingredient missing from the willingness to take on Castle this time -- a candidate with the credentials to do it. Money, too. Castle was sitting on $1.2 million in his campaign treasury at the end of last year.

"They want someone in early with a track record and the ability to raise money," said Snyder-Mackler, the Democrats' communications director.

The Democrats have a surplus of tested candidates, but not necessarily anyone who is interested in running against Castle -- or perhaps even in running for the Congress, for that matter.

As the 2008 election cycle unfolds, Lt. Gov. John C. Carney Jr. and Treasurer Jack A. Markell are bent on the governorship. Insurance Commissioner Matthew P. Denn wants to be lieutenant governor. Attorney General Joseph R. "Beau" Biden III, newly elected, is committed to a four-year term. New Castle County Executive Christopher A. Coons has unfinished business, fixing the county finances, and will not talk about anything else, at least not now.

Really, the timing could be better.