Posted: April 19, 2010


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

Chris Coons stepped behind a lectern and into history. By declaring for the Senate, he became part of a political convergence that has not happened in Delaware in 40 years.

Not since 1970 has the state seen open races for both the Senate and the House of Representatives in the same election season. Before Watergate. Before Roe v. Wade. Before the 18-year-old vote. Before so much that nowadays just is.

It was so long ago, it was the year the New Castle County Council had a new member elected, a 27-year-old Democratic lawyer named Joe Biden. He needed a comb then.

Credit the lock on the federal offices to Biden and Tom Carper, Mike Castle and Bill Roth, two Democrats and two Republicans. They commandeered the two Senate seats by the early 1970s, the lone House seat by the early 1980s.

There has not been a fraternity that exclusive since John, Paul, George and Ringo.

It was going to take a thunderbolt to break up the logjam, and it did. It took Biden becoming the vice president. Who knew it would be easier for Delaware to get a vice president than a national park?

With Biden departed, the Senate seat he held is up for an abbreviated four-year term. Ted Kaufman, the Democrat appointed to fill in, was so determined not to run, it was as if he thought that hanging around a place like the Senate for longer than two years could turn him into a pillar of salt.

The Senate race was open. So was the House race once Castle, the congressman in his ninth term, decided to go for the Senate. Delaware will get both a new senator and a new representative for the first time in 40 years -- or in the case of Castle, at least a retread.

Also a rarity, the state is being presented with an array of accomplished candidates.

For the Senate, the voters get Castle, a Republican who was also a two-term governor, lieutenant governor and legislator, and Coons, a Democrat who is a two-term New Castle County executive and previously council president.

For the House, there are John Carney, a Democrat who was a two-term lieutenant governor, and Michele Rollins, a Republican who is one of the state's most prominent business leaders.

Nothing is quite so enticing as an open federal office. The races also are drawing an assortment of other candidates, a Christine O'Donnell here, a Glen Urquhart there, causing various primaries.

They are names more on the order of what voters came to expect as challengers during the long Biden-Carper-Castle-Roth occupation -- names like James Krapf and Mike Miller and Dennis Spivack, who went down, down, down in history.

Coons formally got going Monday with a traditional statewide tour that took him through all the counties with stops in Rehoboth Beach in Sussex County, Dover in Kent County and New Castle in New Castle County.

In the lead-up to the announcement, Coons was heard to make remarks that were in keeping with the historic nature of this election. He sounded Shakespearean. He called Castle "a good and decent man" so often, he came across like Mark Antony in Julius Caesar.

Antony repeatedly called Brutus, one of the conspirators who murdered Caesar, "an honorable man." This was not as nice as it first appears. It was actually part of Antony's intentions to incite the Romans to take up pitchforks, firebrands, whatever, against Brutus, and they did. The play ends with Brutus falling on his sword, so there.

Here was Coons, using his announcement speech to hand Castle the sharp end of the sword, not to mention mixing in a reminder that Castle is 70 and Coons is 46.

"Although I like and I respect my opponent, and I honor his DECADES of service to Delaware and his EIGHTEEN YEARS in Washington, I frankly don't think years of Washington insider experience is going to bring the real solutions we need to the tough choices in front of us," Coons said.

"Because Delaware deserves someone who will stand up to fight for the NEXT GENERATION of Delawareans, I am here today to declare my candidacy for Delaware's open seat in the United States Senate."

The candidates, regardless of party affiliation, look more than willing to turn the election into a referendum on Barack Obama and the Democratic Congress. The Democrats think it will work in their favor. So do the Republicans.

This is a Democratic state. It is a Republican year. The voters will make the call.

Forty years ago, when Delaware was not a Democratic state, the Republicans won both open offices. Roth took the Senate seat by beating Jake Zimmerman, a state legislator. Pete du Pont, who would be elected governor in another six years, went to the House by outpolling John Daniello, a New Castle County councilman at the time.

Daniello is the Democratic state chair today, the last politician standing with firsthand knowledge of two federal open races. Talk about a survivor.