Posted: April 27, 2010


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

There goes Mike Castle again. With the Democrats trying to tar him as a rubber-stamp Republican, forsaking Delaware's bedrock political principal of working together, he makes one of those splashy hands-across-the-aisle moves.

It involves the rules for campaign spending, a matter so dear to the Democrats it was part of the State of the Union. This was what created the YouTube moment of the speech.

Barack Obama called for the Congress to undo a Supreme Court opinion he said rolled back restrictions on campaign spending by corporations, unions and foreign interests, a pronouncement that prompted Justice Sam Alito to be seen mouthing, "Not true."

The Democratic concern about outsider money going viral is so high that it fell to Chris Van Hollen to search for a legislative patch. He is the Maryland congressman who chairs the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the command center of the party's election efforts in the House of Representatives.

Bipartisanship is in such retreat in Washington these days, it looks like Moses parted it and kept it there like the Red Sea, but Van Hollen nevertheless wanted some Republican assistance for this one and found a willing partner in Mike Castle.

Never mind the Democrats are busy bashing Castle, whose campaign for the Senate is regarded as one of the Republicans' best chances to flip a seat, in this case the one Joe Biden left to become the vice president.

"[Van Hollen] approached me. I've been involved in campaign finance reform, so I was a natural person to approach on it. There's not a lot of Republican support right now," Castle said.

The Democratic choreography could have been better. On the very day last week Van Hollen and Castle announced their cooperation, Chris Coons was declaring for the Senate as the Democratic candidate with the traditional statewide tour and depicting Castle as a political Gumby.

"Delawareans expect our elected officials to work together to find solutions and to find ways to break through the partisan gridlock," Coons said.

"Today we have a congressman who unfortunately and too often has said one thing here at home in Delaware and done a different thing down in Washington, and that starts by too often following the dictates of congressional Republican leadership, who have been putting partisanship over purpose, valuing opposition to President Obama over working together."

It is hard to think of anything else -- excluding any shenanigans that would be illegal, immoral or unethical -- Castle could have done to raise his profile. On a matter of national significance, he is the only Republican to sign on.

The New York Times gave him the-boy-stood-on-the-burning-deck-whence-all-but-he-had-fled treatment in an editorial.

"One, and only one, congressional Republican has decided that unregulated money should not be allowed to swamp this campaign year. Rep. Michael Castle of Delaware is daring to co-sponsor a bill to repair some of the damage from the Supreme Court's decision," it wrote.

There is no doubt it is a smart political move on Castle's part. It pushes back against the Democratic offensive to lump him as another nay-saying Republican, who eschewed compromise and embraced the unanimous opposition by the House Republicans to the health care and economic stimulus bills.

Castle actually is accustomed to a reputation for going his own way. It reached its peak when his legislation on stem cell research became the first bill ever vetoed by the second George Bush, a president from his own party, but it was nothing new.

After moving from the state's governor to its lone congressman in 1993, Castle made his first foray into major legislation by giving a bipartisan boost to a new anti-crime measure, called the Biden crime law in Delaware and the Clinton crime law everywhere else.

Castle was not exactly an election-year convert to campaign spending legislation. In one particularly notable moment in 2001, he was part of a small band of Republicans who forced their own leadership to bring an earlier version to the floor.

Castle also promised shortly after Obama's State of the Union to come up with new legislation to blunt what the Supreme Court did in the decision known as Citizens United v. FEC.

Castle's partnership with Van Hollen appears to have stood election-year politics at home on its head -- not stirring up either the Democrats who want him to lose or the Republicans who could be disinclined to promote Democratic legislation.

This includes John Daniello, the Democratic state chair. "I am in favor of the bill. I am in favor of something being done quickly. There's got to be a way of controlling the influence that corporations have. I respect the Supreme Court, but the idea that a corporation stands in the same place and has the same rights as an individual person is pure bunk," he said.

Daniello's take on Castle was, "I appreciate the help to get the wrong righted, but I would think that one of ours like Chris Coons would be more forceful in getting it done."

Tom Ross, the Republican state chair, was firmly on Castle's side. "If you leave elections to Goldman Sachs, the money in politics is getting to be scary. A lot of those foreign countries are smart enough to try to game the system. In a nutshell, it's Mike Castle, pragmatic, common sense," he said.

Even Coons was boxed into offering, "I'm pleased to see the bill get as much support as it can."

Democrats and Republicans do not agree on much these days, but they stand together on this one. There is no way they are going to let any outside interests control the elections, not when the politicians want to do it themselves.