Posted: June 10, 2005
THREE OF A KIND
By Celia Cohen
For all the complaining that Delaware Republicans do about U.S. Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., he ranked in the top 20 of Senate Democrats who sided with President George W. Bush on roll call votes in the last session of the Congress.
U.S. Sen. Thomas R. Carper placed in the top 10 in presidential support among Senate Democrats. U.S. Rep. Michael N. Castle scored in a different sort of top 10 -- as one of the House Republicans who broke most often with their party's president.
The voting record of the state's three-member congressional delegation for 2003-2004 was compiled in a biennial analysis by Congressional Quarterly, a respected publication that covers Capitol Hill. The results were included in "Politics in America 2006," a comprehensive guide to the workings of the Congress.
Both Biden and Carper reflected the White House's position more than half the time with their votes, Biden at 54 percent and Carper slightly higher at 57 percent. It was enough to make Biden 19th in presidential support and Carper 8th among the 44 Democrats who make up the Senate minority.
Castle was much more likely than either of the Democratic senators to vote with the president, agreeing with him on 71 percent of the votes, but it still amounted to a standout record of contrariness for Castle, a leading moderate who often tacks against the conservative politics prevailing in the White House and the House of Representatives. Castle came in 8th in presidential opposition among the 231 Republicans in the majority.
As Congressional Quarterly noted, there is enormous pressure on the members of Congress in Washington's polarized atmosphere to conform to the party line. It is the reason Castle can appear to be less of a presidential friend than Biden or Carper. House Republicans are supposed to support Bush, and Senate Democrats are not.
The voting pattern also says something about the delegation's political base in Delaware. In this state, the center still rules, and it is displays of pragmatism and independence that have kept Biden in statewide office since 1972, Carper since 1976 and Castle since 1980.
"Delaware doesn't require you to vote for your party. Delaware requires you to vote for Delaware," said James R. Soles, a political science professor emeritus from the University of Delaware. "Delawareans are basically reasonable people, and they don't go for either end of the political spectrum."
It does not take much to make members of Congress seem like flaming mavericks. The three Delawareans were mostly reliable votes for their respective parties, but they all showed up on the list of those most likely to buck party unity, according to the Congressional Quarterly analysis.
Biden and Carper were in the top 15 of Senate Democrats most likely to break with their colleagues. Biden was 13th by going his own way a meager 8 percent of the time, and Carper was 6th by showing an independent streak on 18 percent of the votes.
It will be notable to see whether Carper's ranking changes when Congressional Quarterly revisits its analysis in two years. Carper is a member of the leadership now as a deputy whip, responsible for corralling Democratic votes.
Castle was 4th in splitting from the House majority's position, a rank he obtained by casting only 22 percent of his votes that way.
Congressional Quarterly also offered some more general observations about the delegation.
It pegged Biden as one of 10 members who have spent more than half of their lives in the Congress. Biden was 30 years old when he took his Senate oath and has been in office for 32 years -- and counting.
The publication found 10 members are former governors, so a lusty 20 percent of them are Delaware's -- Castle, who was the governor from 1985 to 1993, and Carper, who followed from 1993 to 2001.
There also were thumbnail sketches. Congressional Quarterly said Carper "thinks like a governor" and Castle "carries a substantial bloc of moderate votes with him." It credited Biden with a depth of understanding in foreign policy, but the publication also displayed its own depth of understanding about Biden himself:
"He can sometimes be profound and sometimes long-winded, even for a politician."