Posted: Sept. 13, 2007


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

Nearly a year ago, U.S. Rep. Michael N. Castle was chugging toward re-election, a Republican going for his eighth term, when he woke up so woozy that his wife Jane called 911.

It was Saturday, Sept. 23. The telephone call from the couple's summer home in Dewey Beach set off a daylong medical drill that took Castle first to Beebe Medical Center in Lewes and then by helicopter to Christiana Hospital in Stanton to treat him for a mini-stroke.

After an energetic two-and-a-half decades in statewide office as a lieutenant governor, governor and Delaware's lone congressman, Castle shockingly was sidelined.

His absence from public life did not last long -- not even three weeks, less time than the Iraqi parliament recently took for vacation.

Apart from some fatigue that initially slimmed down his schedule, Castle was back with no speech or motor problems and no rehabilitation regimen beyond aspirin and a blood thinner, both of which he continues to take today.

"I'm doing fine," Castle said Thursday. "Within a matter of weeks after that, I really didn't have any aftereffects, nor have I since."

What Castle experienced technically was two small strokes, caused by a blood clot in the thalamus, the part of the brain that controls sensation, or the ability to feel objects, pressure and pain.

His doctors said it was the result of a common congenital heart defect called PFO, or patent foramen ovale, when a part of the heart fails to close after birth. The condition does not cause strokes but can be an incubator for them. It can be corrected in outpatient surgery, but Castle has had conflicting advice on whether he should have it and still has not decided one way or the other.

In addition to the wobble in Castle's health, the 2006 election season left a hitch in his polling numbers. From his customary 70 percent of the vote or thereabouts, Castle was held to 57 percent by Dennis Spivack, a loud but under-financed Democrat, and two minor-party candidates in what was an all-around bad year for the Republicans, who lost control of the Congress.

It was enough for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the House Democrats' political arm, to speculate that Castle might be ready to call it a career -- he is 68 now -- or be vulnerable to a frontline Democrat in 2008, but neither the retirement nor the formidable challenge are materializing.

Instead, Castle has socked away more than a million dollars in his campaign treasury, and his candidacy is all but declared. "I wouldn't be raising money if I wasn't thinking about this," he said.

Castle also continues to cultivate the political turf that has won him approval at home -- independent from the Republican White House, centrist in outlook, bipartisan in approach.

He was at it with gusto Thursday as he gave a speech on Iraq to about 100 members of the Wilmington Rotary Club, meeting at the Hotel du Pont on Rodney Square, and chided both the Bush administration for its short-sightedness and the Congress for its partisanship.

"I have long disagreed with the way this administration has misjudged the crucial diplomatic aspect of this conflict," he said.

"Politics as usual cannot stand as Congress' Iraq strategy any longer," he also said.

About two weeks ago, Rodney Square was the site of an outdoor anti-war rally targeting Castle, and there could not have been more of a contrast between the protesters' treatment of him outside and the Rotarians' inside -- to such a degree that one club member said he wished Castle was running for president.

Castle could not laugh it off fast enough. "That's something I have no interest in," he said

Castle will leave that to Joe Biden and take his health and the House.