Posted: Aug. 20, 2007


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

U.S. Rep. Michael N. Castle's successful campaign for re-election last year ended with the distribution of "Mike Castle '08" buttons, but the rival Democrats were unimpressed.

While Castle set a record for Delaware by winning an eighth congressional term, he was not the typical Republican juggernaut who had cowed the Democrats since he left the governorship for Washington in 1992.

His percentage of the vote plummeted from the intimidating 70 percent he customarily polled to a mortal 57 percent against an under-financed candidate. His institutional clout was diminished as the Republicans lost the majority, leaving him a minority within a minority in the U.S. House of Representatives as a state delegation of one. Besides, he had a mini-stroke in September before the election.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the political arm of the House Democrats, promptly put Castle at the top of its 2008 list of potential Republican retirements, figuring he could have had enough. This was someone who turned 68 in July and has been in statewide office as a lieutenant governor, governor and congressman since the 1980 election. Jimmy Carter was still the president then.

So much for that wishful thinking. While the House Republicans are weathering a surge in departing members -- including former Speaker J. Dennis Hastert -- Castle is not among them. Instead, he has banked a solid $1.3 million in his campaign treasury, his schedule teems with activity, and the stroke seems gone without a trace.

The upshot is his name has disappeared from the speculation about Republican retirements.

"He's raising his money, he's going to events, he's doing everything he needs to do to be prepared to run again in 2008," said Jeffrey A. Dayton, an aide who has been with Castle for every statewide race beginning with lieutenant governor.

Castle is still Castle, easier to leave alone than take out. The Delaware Democrats appear to have other priorities these days, such as trying to keep the governorship and praying there is not a primary for it between Lt. Gov. John C. Carney Jr. and Treasurer Jack A. Markell, and angling to take over the majority in the state House of Representatives in Dover.

This is not to say the Democrats are giving Castle a pass. They have at least two candidates looking at the congressional race in 2008, and there could be more emerging. If they came up with a frontline contender, it would elevate the status of the congressional campaign in a hurry.

Dennis Spivack, a lawyer who was the nominee in 2006, wants another shot. Christopher A. Bullock, the pastor of Canaan Baptist Church in Wilmington, also is thinking about entering the race, drawn to it by his misgivings about the Iraq war and the state of the economy. He was beginning to raise his profile Monday evening with a sermon called "A Prayer for Peace."

An election ago, Bullock was a Republican, regarded highly enough to be urged to run against U.S. Sen. Thomas R. Carper, a Democrat who won a new term in 2006, but Bullock not only turned it down, he changed his registration.

Bullock switched parties but kept his Capitol Hill aspirations, which now have him eying the U.S. House race. "I'm very interested. I'm looking at it very seriously," he said.

So is Castle. Those buttons for '08 are not collectors' items yet.