Posted: Sept. 28, 2007


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

Delaware voters have grown used to the Mike & Tom Show -- the durable hands-across-the-aisle duet of U.S. Rep. Mike Castle and U.S. Sen. Tom Carper.

Their Kumbaya act dates in earnest from that 1992 madcap swap of jobs that sent Castle, then the Republican governor, to the U.S. House of Representatives for the state's lone seat there and made Carper, then the Democratic congressman, the governor.

They hold their current assignments because of a non-aggression pact they struck to avoid running against one another for the U.S. Senate in 2000, an arrangement that gave Carper the opening to take out Republican Sen. Bill Roth. (If Roth had retired and Castle had run, it might have meant Carper, who was maxed out as governor, would be working as one of those late-night pitchmen on a home shopping channel these days.)

As two-thirds of the congressional delegation, Castle and Carper often traipse around the state together. While Joe Biden has better things to do right now with the Democrats in Iowa, the Mike & Tom Show arrives to hand out federal largesse in the form of state-of-the-art gear for volunteer firefighters here and grants for home repairs there.

Last week Castle was olive-branching out some more. He took the time for a little work on the side with another Democrat.

This one was Matt Denn, the insurance commissioner. Denn is regarded as more partisan and less centrist than Castle and Carper, but there was a reason to audition a Mike & Matt Combo.

It was SCHIP -- the State Children's Health Insurance Program. This federal initiative provides health insurance through the states for children in families with too much income to qualify for Medicaid but not enough to afford private coverage.

Even though children are right up there with Mom and apple pie, the reauthorization of the program has been a raging controversy in Washington this week. The House and Senate, both under Democratic control, passed legislation that President Bush said he would veto because he objected to the cost and to a whiff of socialized medicine he detected. The bill was approved with enough votes to override a veto in the Senate but not the House.

Castle, who voted against an earlier and costlier version, was recorded "yea" on this one in a break with the Republican president. The way Castle is voting this session, it would be news if he did not break with Bush.

"Good preventative health care, particularly with children, can end up saving money along the line," Castle said.

Before the House vote, Castle and Denn rolled out a joint press release in favor of the measure. It was Denn's idea. He was lobbying his fellow insurance commissioners to press their own congressional delegations to back the bill and figured he ought to set an example.

Denn could have played to his Democratic base by issuing a tub-thumping press release demanding Castle's support, but this is Delaware. His office contacted Castle's office, and in a matter of hours bipartisanship bloomed.

Just standard operating procedure in these parts. "I don't think it's unusual for Sen. Biden or Sen. Carper to issue joint statements with Mike Castle, so I don't think there's anything groundbreaking about it," Denn said.

It was smart politics for both. Denn, who is running for lieutenant governor, got to raise his standing by associating himself with Castle, and Castle got another opportunity to parade his independence from the White House before the state's Democratic-leaning electorate.

Besides, Castle's options for working with Republican officeholders are few, now that he and state Auditor Tom Wagner are the only ones left among Delaware's nine statewide elected officials.

"We deal with all those offices on a regular basis. Once people are elected, it's our responsibility in my judgment to work together," Castle said.

"I don't do much auditing, so I don't do much with Tom."