Posted: Feb. 16, 2007


Don't mess around with Mike

The Democrats say they are going after U.S. Rep. Michael N. Castle in 2008 -- which means that the eight-term Republican congressman has the Democrats right where he wants them.

Castle is a happy contrarian. He is delighted to be the only member of Congress to have a bill vetoed by President George W. Bush, who shot down Castle's signature bill on embryonic stem cell research last year. It was icing on the cake that Castle bucked a president from his own party.

The Democrats looked at Castle's age at 67, his health after a small stroke and his decline at the polls to 57 percent of the vote, respectable but nowhere near his customary 70 percent. They figured he was vulnerable, particularly in an state inclining more and more Democratic, but his response is something along the lines of sez-who?

"He's fired up," said Elizabeth B. Wenk, the congressman's deputy chief of staff.

So far, Castle has given the Democrats precious little to shoot at. He voted for every item in the "100 Hours" agenda, the package of legislation that the Democrats used as their calling card to announce their new majority in the U.S. House of Representatives.

He also broke with Bush again this week by opposing the Iraq surge, although presumably he did not break with Delaware. (It is one thing to be contrary on Capitol Hill and something else entirely to be contrary with your constituency. One leads to re-election and the other to retirement.)

"Like everybody else, the congressman's terribly frustrated with the war. It's basically where Delaware is. He's going to vote against the build-up but for what the Iraq Study Group said on a diplomatic effort," said James R. Soles, a political scientist retired from the University of Delaware. "Probably up here in New Castle County, there are people willing to take stronger stands, but there's also Kent and Sussex."

Castle has $1.2 million in his campaign treasury that says he is ready for another run, and he acts like someone who still believes he has a rendezvous with history by outlasting this president to have his stem cell bill become law.

The best candidates the Democrats have to offer all seem to be looking elsewhere -- Lt. Gov. John Carney Jr. and Treasurer Jack A. Markell at governor, Insurance Commissioner Matthew P. Denn at lieutenant governor, Attorney General Joseph R. "Beau" Biden Jr. at a complete term, and New Castle County Executive Christopher A. Coons at re-election.

The odds are that the Democrats will be more focused on other matters by 2008, like electing a new governor, than replacing a congressman.

New session, new staff

For the majority party, there is opportunity. It comes for members such as U.S. Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., back as the Foreign Relations Committee chair now that the Democrats are in control, and it comes for staff, notably for U.S. Sen. Thomas R. Carper, who is starting his second term.

In a press release, Carper said he was hiring a new chief of staff, bringing back Jim Reilly, a former aide who spent the last two years working at the British Embassy. Carper also promoted Bill Ghent from communications director to legislative director and Bonnie Wu from deputy press secretary to New Castle County director.

The changes were triggered by the departure of Jonathon Jones, the ex-chief of staff who also cashed in on the new-found opportunity. He joined Washington's lobbying corps, now earnestly in the market for people with Democratic ties.

Second time is charm

The Sussex County Republicans have installed David M. Burris as their new chair, even if it took them a month longer than expected.

The vote on Monday to replace William Swain Lee, the ex-judge who was giving up the post, was supposed to be held in January. Burris was running unopposed, but his election was stymied by the bane of all political organizations -- no quorum because of a major sports event on television.

The meeting conflicted with the national championship game for college football. "I began my political career with losses to both Florida and Ohio State on the same night," Burris quipped.