Posted: April 15, 2011


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

Mike Castle is turning up in the Gold Ballroom of the Hotel du Pont in Wilmington almost as much as its celebrated dessert macaroons.

He was there Thursday to speak to the Wilmington Rotary Club. He will be back in another two weeks to give the Law Day keynote speech to the Delaware State Bar Association.

No surprise here. The Gold Ballroom is where Delawareans go for their rites of passage, situated as it is inside a landmark to The Family alongside Rodney Square, a civic center so meaningful it rates having the iconic statue of the best-known rider in American lore not named Paul Revere.

Castle put Caesar Rodney on a quarter. One historical figure deserves another.

Castle is on something of a ride himself. It is a touring road show, so to speak, of a politician destined to be remembered as the Most Famous Senator Delaware Never Had.

There but for 3,500 votes in the primary, it could have been. Witch or no witch, Christine O'Donnell had the hocus-pocus to end a 30-year streak that made Castle the state's most successful Republican ever as its lieutenant governor, governor and longest-serving congressman.

Castle is being asked everywhere. Jack Markell, the Democratic governor, invited him to the State of the State address. The bench and bar included him at a national award ceremony honoring Randy Holland, the Supreme Court justice. Castle was on the VIP list when Charlie Oberly, the former Democratic attorney general, was sworn in as the U.S. attorney.

It is as if the congressional contingent suddenly swelled to four members. Carper, Coons, Carney but also Castle, as though he is some sort of approximation of the congressional delegate from Washington, D.C. Present but not voting.

Something is going on here. Is Delaware in denial? Embarrassed? Struck by voters remorse?

"Or all of the above?" quipped Joan DelFattore, a Rotary Club member at Castle's speech.

Castle has not only turned into everybody's speaker of choice, but the most favored awards recipient. The Delaware State Chamber of Commerce gave him its prestigious Josiah Marvel Cup. The First State Gridiron & Dinner Show has its Thomas C. Maloney Community Service Award ready to go to Castle and his wife Jane next month.

"Congressman Castle's contributions to the state of Delaware have been many throughout his long years of public service, but often the contributions of the spouse of an elected official go unnoticed and underappreciated. The Maloney family is happy to present this award jointly to Mike and Jane," said Lynda Maloney.

The Maloney Award is named for Lynda Maloney's late husband Tom, a dashing Democratic mayor of Wilmington with an unrequited ambition to get to the U.S. Senate. Castle could relate.

Castle is taking this flurry of recognition in stride. "I don't suppose they give these awards the second year in a row," he said.

Castle is 71, but he does not intend to sit on the sidelines. He has an office with a staffer or two, and there could be an affiliation with a law firm in his future. He also knows what he will not do.

"I'm not running again," Castle said.

At the Rotary Club's request, Castle reflected on his long public life. The best office he had? Governor. His most memorable accomplishments? The 50 State Quarters Program as a congressman and greenways preservation as governor. Badge of honor? His embryonic stem cell research bill becoming the first veto by the second George Bush, a president from his own party.

Most terrifying moment? A roller coaster ride during Governor's Day at the Delaware State Fair in Harrington with two little girls holding onto him and shrieking. "I'm not much for heights and spinning and that sort of thing," Castle said.

Fun? Halloween at Woodburn, the governor's house in Dover. "I became Frankenstein, and I was a natural," he said.

Not fun? "The Senate primary. I'd like to dismiss that period of my life if I could," Castle said.

More than anyone else, Castle was the arc of the election. The angry campaign season engulfing the country stretched from the birther who confronted him in a YouTube moment in Sussex County to the Tea Party that took him down.

One place the tour by the Most Famous Senator Delaware Never Had may not take him is the Republican state convention in Dover at the end of the month.

Scheduling conflict, he says. If he is otherwise conflicted, he did not say.