Posted: Feb. 12, 2010


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

The rising Democratic class has come into its own like bumper cars on a joyride.

Jack Markell and John Carney collided over governor, but Carney simply shook himself and steered into the congressional race a few months after Markell's inauguration.

Matt Denn scooted from insurance commissioner to lieutenant governor. Chris Coons, stuck in neutral as New Castle County executive, zoomed into the Senate race as soon as he saw daylight.

Beau Biden put on the brakes as attorney general, but what would be his hurry? Like there are Democrats who want to get in his way.

The Republicans can only watch. They look like space mountain -- acres of political vastness.

This is a party whose major accomplishment, so far in this election season, is sighing with relief as Mike Castle decided not to retire.

After 18 years as a congressman, Castle has been the Republicans' dream candidate for the Senate since Joe Biden had his seating assignment changed to the front of the chamber.

With so much lead time, there was no way the Republicans would not have an up-and-comer ready to slot in behind Castle for the House of Representatives, right? Wrong.

This, in a state with one congressional district.

The off-on-off-on candidacy of Charlie Copeland, who left the state Senate in 2008 to be the Republican candidate for lieutenant governor, does not appear to be flickering to life. It looks like it is back to dial-a-prayer for the party.

"We remain very optimistic that we'll have a great candidate who will be our next congressman," said Tom Ross, the Republican state chair.

The delay has given Carney a comfortable head start in money and organization. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee lists him as one of its top candidates to watch.

Carney banked a half-million dollars by the end of 2009, and he recently brought in Molly Jurusik to run his campaign.

Jurusik was the executive director at Democratic state headquarters for the 2006 and 2008 elections before spending the last year at the Democratic National Committee. She goes back with Carney to 2000 when she signed up as an intern for his first campaign for lieutenant governor and was promoted to a field coordinator. In 2004 she was the campaign manager for his second run.

"We're very pleased with the response to the campaign. It's been very positive," Carney said.

The congressional race could have consequences for years to come. Over the last 50 years, the state's representatives have had better staying power than senators or governors. The voters kicked out three sitting senators in 17 elections since 1960, three sitting governors in 13 elections, but only two representatives in 25 elections.

Member Party Tenure
Harris McDowell Democrat 1959-1967
Bill Roth Republican 1967-1971
Pete du Pont Republican 1971-1977
Tom Evans Republican 1977-1983
Tom Carper Democrat 1983-1993
Mike Castle Republican 1993-present

Democrat Harris McDowell Jr. lost the congressional seat in a Republican landslide in 1966, and Republican Tom Evans lost it in a scandal in 1982. Still, they did not lose to just anybody. It took Bill Roth and Tom Carper.

"In Delaware, the seat changes hands generally when it's an open seat," said Jim Soles, a political scientist retired from the University of Delaware.

Soles has not just an academic but an inside view of the congressional elections. He was the Democratic candidate in 1974, but not even Watergate was enough to dislodge a Republican on the order of Pete du Pont. The office just has a history of attracting powerhouses.

"We need to look at who the representatives were," Soles said. "Pete was popular, and he left for governor. Evans had his problems, so Carper went in. Carper left to run for governor, and the governor [Castle] ran for the House."

The political astrology could not be more favorable for the Republicans -- an open congressional seat, Mike Castle at the top of the ticket, maybe for the last time, and an election shaping up as a Republican year.

Never mind. What the Democrats have going for them right now is even better. Squatters' rights.