Posted: Feb. 20, 2007


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

U.S. Rep. Michael N. Castle, who has made his way in the Congress with a maverick reputation for bucking the Republican Party line, delivered his endorsement Tuesday to John McCain, the presidential candidate with the reputation as the Maverick-in-Chief.

It is probably legitimate to wonder at what point enough mavericks get together to constitute the Establishment, particularly when one of them is the front-runner for the party's presidential nomination and the other is the party's standard bearer in his state, but never mind. It is their independence that yokes them together.

Castle announced his backing during a press conference in Wilmington at his own campaign headquarters by the Brandywine. He said he will chair McCain's Delaware operation, technically still in the exploratory phase, and be joined by state House Speaker Terry R. Spence as the co-chair.

Republican National Committeeman John R. Matlusky, a top party official who previously committed to McCain, also attended the press conference. Spence was not there, because he was out of town at a conference for statehouse speakers.

Castle said he was going with McCain because of his leadership. "As we head into the 2008 election, I believe that my party, the Republican Party, needs the strongest person possible," Castle said. "I believe Sen. John McCain is that person."

As of now, McCain is the only Republican contender actively working to put together an organization in Delaware, which is scheduled to hold an early primary Feb. 5 with a bloc of other states. In addition to collecting endorsements, McCain sent in his mid-Atlantic political director earlier this month for a tour of all three counties to solicit support.

Other candidates barely have a toehold yet. Rudy Giuliani keynoted a Republican dinner last month in Wilmington, and Mitt Romney has picked up the backing of David M. Burris, the new Sussex County Republican chair.

The Delaware Democrats, of course, are locked out of the presidential maneuverings because they are locked in with U.S. Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. as their favorite son.

Being mavericks, Castle and McCain diverge on various issues. Castle favors abortion rights, and McCain is against them. Castle is devoutly moderate, and McCain is moving farther right to court the conservative vote critical to winning the nomination.

Castle voted against the troop surge in Iraq, and McCain is a hard-line hawk, although Castle insists their positions are not really dissimilar on Iraq. Castle says both want a stronger diplomatic effort and both want Iraq to take greater responsibility for itself -- "I'm not sure the surge is a way to get that done."

Where the two converge most significantly is on embryonic stem cell research, Castle's signature issue which McCain also supports.

Castle had nice things to say about both Giuliani and Romney, in the event McCain falters. "I happen to think this is a year when the Republican Party has very strong candidates," he said. "We have to determine who is most likely to get elected. I cast my support for Sen. John McCain."

Now all Castle has to do is figure out a way to translate that support into votes. The last time Delaware saw a threesome like himself, Spence and Matlusky come together early for a presidential candidate, it was on the Democratic side in 2004 with U.S. Sen. Thomas R. Carper, Lt. Gov. John C. Carney Jr. and Treasurer Jack A. Markell, and everybody knows how it turned out for President Joe Lieberman.