Posted: Feb. 10, 2004
CASTLE GOES FRONT AND
By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer
U.S. Rep. Michael N. Castle
clearly was tired of watching as more of his fellow Republicans seem
to be exiting politics rather than entering, here at the start of an
election year when the opposite ought to be happening, so he did
something about it Saturday night at the annual Lincoln Day dinner
Already this campaign
season, Insurance Commissioner Donna Lee Williams declared she was
leaving instead of running for a fourth term. State Rep. Timothy U.
Boulden, a 10-year veteran from Newark, also bailed. Both departures
put the offices at risk for the Republicans.
The Lincoln Day dinner
itself brought further discouraging notes. The Kent County
Republicans who host it had hinted the event was to be state Rep.
Donna D. Stone's coming-out party as a candidate for insurance
commissioner, but she used it for getting out of that, deciding she
is better off sticking with her Dover legislative seat.
State Rep. G. Robert Quillen,
a Harrington Republican honored lavishly at the dinner as Kent
County's "Elected Official of the Year," acknowledged that health
problems might prevent him from running again.
With Castle himself looking
something like the last of his kind -- he is the only upstate
Republican left holding statewide or New Castle Countywide office --
he turned the evening into a showcase for party building.
In front of more than 500
people at the Dover Sheraton Hotel, Castle introduced Christopher J.
Castagno, the New Castle City Council president who is running for
New Castle County executive, and Paul J. Pomeroy, the Newark Region
Republican vice chairman who is running for Boulden's legislative
It was a bit unusual,
featuring upstaters at a Kent County dinner, but Castle pointed out
that the event has grown so large, he regards it as a statewide
Lincoln Day celebration, and as a matter of fact, it does draw
Republicans from all three counties.
The heavily downstate crowd
did not seem to mind -- particularly when Pomeroy wooed his
listeners by calling this event his favorite and explaining why.
While he was attending last year, he took a cell phone call telling
him his wife Catherine was ready to give birth to their first child,
a son who was a year old on Monday. Baby stories still work in
Castle discussed in an
interview Monday why he did what he did. "I have become increasingly
concerned the Democrats have a lot of young statewide officeholders.
I think we have to prime the pump," he said.
"Sussex County has become
almost reliably Republican. Kent County is pretty much Republican.
At the same time we've been losing votes in New Castle County. The
time has come to seize hold of this."
Castagno and Pomeroy are not
just New Castle County Republicans, however. They are Mike Castle
Republicans, centrist and pragmatic in their politics.
While Castle certainly has
done his part to help Republicans farther to the right than he is --
such as state Sen. Colin R.J. Bonini of Dover and state Rep. John C.
Atkins of Millsboro -- it still is telling that he is taking so
public a posture with Castagno and Pomeroy.
"Delaware is not looking for
ideologically conservative candidates," Castle said. "What we
haven't done is elect anyone who is far right ideologically,
although we certainly have elected into the conservative camp."
Castle's stand comes as a
counter to the rightward drift his party appears to be experiencing
under state Chairman Terry A. Strine, a movement conservative.
In the December edition of
"Elephants Heard," the state party's newsletter, Strine urged his
membership to "become part of the TRUTH SQUAD" by listening to
conservative commentators like Rush Limbaugh and watching Fox News.
In addition, at a state
party dinner next month, the guest speaker is scheduled to be Gary
Aldrich, a former FBI agent and Clinton critic, now the driving
force behind the Patrick Henry Center for Individual Liberty. Its
board of directors includes conservative icons like Oliver L. North,
former Attorney General Edwin Meese III and Howard Phillips, the
president of the Conservative Caucus, according to its Web site.
As promising as Castle
regards Castagno and Pomeroy, their political future is uncertain.
opponent is likely to be Christopher A. Coons, a proven countywide
vote-getter as the County Council president, if Coons gets by what
could be a bloody primary against Sherry L. Freebery, the county's
chief administrative officer. No Republican has been elected county
executive in 20 years, although the Republicans are banking on
fallout from a federal investigation into the administration of
two-term Democrat Thomas P. Gordon to help reverse their slide.
Pomeroy is expected to be up
against Terry Schooley, a past president of the Christina School
Board, in a district that mildly tilts Democratic in voter
While Castagno and Pomeroy
are getting started, the Democrats already are two or three election
cycles ahead in developing what is expected to be the next
generation of governors, U.S. senators and representatives.
The Democrats have as
current officeholders Lt. Gov. John C. Carney Jr., Treasurer Jack A.
Markell and Coons. Wilmington lawyer Matthew P. Denn, a Democrat
running for insurance commissioner, also is trying to get into the
There is a common strain in
this next political class, and it is the Delaware tradition of
governing from the center. It would not be far-fetched to imagine
all of them -- Democrats Carney, Markell, Coons and Denn and
Republicans Castagno and Pomeroy -- at home in the other party.
This is less true of
Democrat Joseph R. "Beau" Biden III, a lawyer who is the senator's
son, and Republican Charles L. Copeland, a state senator who is a du
Pont, both of whom also are regarded as up-and-comers. There is such
a thing as family heritage.
The Republican Party is at a
point where it has to make its move. That became obvious at the
Lincoln Day dinner, when William Swain Lee, the retired judge
expected to be the standard-bearer against Democratic Gov. Ruth Ann
Minner in the fall, attended as all but the Invisible Man.
It took Bobby Quillen, while
receiving his award, to call attention to Lee, saying, "Bill Lee,
you've got my vote, so hang in there."
Granted, the party is not
supposed to trumpet candidates involved in primaries, and Lee has a
pesky one with Michael D. Protack, an airline pilot with little
political background. Still, there are always ways, especially
considering that Kent County Republican Chairman Patrick W. Murray,
a crafty ex-FBI man, is one of Lee's key advisers.
So along came Castle. In the
eternal "Jeopardy" game that politics is, he presented Castagno and
Pomeroy and then gave the question.
Castle asked, "Do you think
the Republican Party has a future in this state?"
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