Posted: March 11, 2010


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

Delaware is not the land of Prozac politics anymore. It is getting to be more like Red Bull.

This will not be Mike Castle thudding past what's-her-name or Tom Carper unbothered by whoever-that-was. The 2010 campaigns for federal office have turned into frontline races for the entire country, and that is just the politics of it.

Look at the way it happened. No one could make this stuff up.

The plotline would be a hack novel if it were not true. A senator named Joe Biden from the second-smallest state -- yeh, right! -- becomes the Democratic vice president, angling to save the seat for his son Beau by getting a trusted ex-aide temporarily appointed to it.

Castle, the tall-as-Abe-Lincoln Republican congressman who always wanted to be a senator, terrifies his party by musing about retiring, but eventually the white smoke goes up, and every Blackberry in Washington vibrates to the thrill of the brewing political rumble between Castle and Beau Biden, who is away as a National Guard JAG captain in the Iraq war.

Then the most monstrous case conceivable of child sexual abuse, a pediatrician preying on his own patients, rocks the state, and Biden, who is the attorney general, scotches the Senate campaign to run for re-election instead.

Chris Coons, the Democratic executive in New Castle County, rides to the rescue for his party. It is not exactly the cavalry coming over the hill, but it is at least a dogsled.

Coons' odds for beating Castle are put at 7 percent by FiveThirtyEight, a Web site devoted to the statistical analysis of politics. (The name refers to the total of Electoral College votes for president.)

Meanwhile, Castle's senatorial aspirations mean the state's only spot in the House of Representatives is there for the taking.

The Democrats could be excused if they are smug. Their voters constitute 47 percent of the electorate, and the Republicans have not flipped a statewide office to themselves since 1992.

Besides, the Democrats really want to give the congressional seat as a consolation prize to John Carney, the former lieutenant governor and high school football hero who lost out on the governorship in a primary to Jack Markell.

It looks grim for the Republicans. Their only announcements in the House race are coming from people declaring they will not run. Until this week.

Right off the top of the Republicans' all-time wish list for candidates, they hear from Michele Rollins. She is rich, she is smart, she runs an international business enterprise, and in her youth she was Miss USA. Really, this is not made up.

Rollins is not in yet, but it is close. She is all the talk in political circles.

Carney cannot get a break. Another opponent from Chateau Country! Not to mention this was supposed to be his week. He has proud news to tell. He is included in the 13 candidates nationwide for the Democrats' prize "Red to Blue" program, targeting the congressional seats they regard as most prime for takeover. It gets lost in the whirlwind about Rollins.

So Delaware goes into the campaign season with a vice president and two federal races that could help make-or-break the majority in the Senate and the House.

"All four candidates are likely to receive a good deal of attention from the party campaign committees. One of 435 is still less significant than one of 100, so the Senate race will garner more attention, and given the dynamics of Senate life, it will also have more impact," said Joe Pika, a political science professor at the University of Delaware.

The state has not been so central to politics since Congressman James Bayard cut the deal after 35 deadlocked ballots to make Thomas Jefferson the president, when the inconclusive election of 1800 was thrown into the House.

There were only 16 states back then, so Delaware really mattered.

It is quite something that the state has come to such national prominence these days. For a place this small, normally it would take a scandal, like the South Carolina governor -- ahem! -- hiking the Appalachian Trail.

The governor here demurely bikes to the Bay. It is for charity, too.