Posted: April 23, 2009
By Celia Cohen
Governors have come and gone. So have chief justices, not to mention World Series appearances by the Philadelphia Phillies.
They are all quicksilver next to the turnover in the state’s membership in the U.S. Senate. It has been the sclerosis of Delaware politics.
Republican Bill Roth and Democrat Joe Biden were there for so long, it seemed as if they had been senators together since the dress code called for togas.
From the early 1970s until January of this year, the only rollover occurred when Democrat Tom Carper uprooted Roth in 2000. Biden could be there yet, except that his immovable tenure collided with irresistible ambition and – presto-change-o! – a vice president popped out.
Not anymore. After six decades with only six senators – Williams, Frear, Boggs, Roth, Biden and Carper – senatorial seating here is about to be transformed into a political assembly line.
Democrat Ted Kaufman, the appointee for Biden, has vowed to vacate the premises quicker than voters can be expected to stop asking, “Does he spell his last name with one ‘f’ or two?”
It is certain that Kaufman, once Biden’s longtime chief of staff, will be getting out of the way so the electorate can choose a senator in 2010. “As I said when I was appointed, I will not be on the ballot. The undemocratic process of a gubernatorial appointment would be compounded if I ran,” Kaufman said.
It is less certain whether Carper might be getting out of the way when his second term is up in 2012. At 62, he has been in office for more than half his life, since he was elected state treasurer in 1976 and went on to be a congressman, governor and senator.
Carper loves being the senior senator from Delaware, but lately he has been dropping little clues that he does not intend to become another Strom Thurmond, the South Carolina senator who stayed in office until he was 100.
Carper feels the press of the next generation of Democratic leadership. The gubernatorial primary between Jack Markell and John Carney tore him up, so much so that he tried to broker a ticket that would have had Carney running for governor and Markell for lieutenant governor. The most obvious relief valve for preventing such Democratic fratricide is himself.
“I don’t want to stand in their way forever,” Carper said. “We’ll see.”
For now, the political parties are focused on getting their dream candidates for the Senate race in 2010. It is no secret who they are.
Republicans from D.C. to Delaware are urging Congressman Mike Castle to run. No less a figure than John McCain stopped by Castle’s office to argue the case for the Senate. George Bush the Elder telephoned.
Castle, who is 69, has climbed the stairs from state representative to state senator to lieutenant governor to governor to U.S. representative. Whatever he does next year, it is no doubt his last political decision.
“Maybe I’ll run for attorney general,” Castle quipped.
Not that he needs that post. Castle already is a non-practicing lawyer.
His more serious possibilities are running for the Senate, running for the 10th time for the House of Representatives (in a race that is enticing John Carney) or retiring. No matter what, the voters should know his choice shortly.
“I’ve got to make a decision, and I think I owe it to the Republican Party to make it relatively soon. In the next month or two, it’s got to be finalized. I really don’t need to focus on a political decision right now, but I understand the nature of the beast,” he said.
“If I run for something, I could very likely run for the Senate. There is some reasonable chance I will not be running for the House.”
The Democrats obviously are looking at Beau Biden, the 40-year-old attorney general, to move into his father’s old office. While Biden himself is mum on politics during his yearlong deployment as a National Guard JAG officer in Iraq, others are not.
Not long ago Carper was in the Senate cloakroom, where he found Kaufman talking on the telephone with Beau Biden. Carper jumped on the line to relay what had happened during a fund-raising trip he just took to the West Coast for Democratic Senate candidates.
“I told him, you’ll be pleased to learn a lot of people are asking if you’re going to run. He said, what did you tell them? I told him, Ted Kaufman scheduled 15 fund raisers and established two leadership PACs, and you’re toast!” Carper cracked.
Both parties are so high on their own candidate, they are positive the other one will turn tail. Republicans think Biden will blink. Democrats think Castle will.
The last time people thought that way, Markell’s backers thought Carney would blink and Carney’s thought Markell would.
Yeh. That happened.