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The Keys to the Castle

Congressman Rejects Retirement Rumors, Eyes Biden Senate Seat

Rep. Mike Castle (R-Del.) is preparing to run for a ninth House term, while simultaneously keeping an eye on Sen. Joseph Biden (Del.) and positioning himself to run for Senate should the Democratic presidential candidate opt for retirement.

Despite suffering a mild stroke in the fall, Castle’s political and Capitol Hill schedules at this point in the cycle, which include an active legislative agenda and a bevy of fundraisers both in Washington, D.C., and in Delaware, are consistent with those of his previous eight campaigns. Unperturbed by House Democrats’ plans to target him next year, Castle likely would run for Senate if Biden retired and is taking steps to launch such a campaign should the opportunity arise.

“Mike Castle never closes any door,” said Elizabeth Wenk, his deputy chief of staff.

Castle is Delaware’s at-large Congressman, and as such his campaigns are similar to Senate bids in that they are statewide operations. With $1.2 million in cash on hand and no campaign debt as of the end of 2006, running for Senate would not be that much of a stretch for the Republican, even though the state has trended Democratic in recent years.

The popular Castle has been running statewide in Delaware at least every four years since 1980, when he was elected lieutenant governor. He was elected governor in 1984 and 1988, before running for the House in 1992, where he has been ever since.

Because Delaware is a small state and big on retail politics, Castle is particularly well-known at home and has what is described as a personal relationship with many voters. The moderate Republican won re-election in November with 57 percent of the vote, which was down from the 69 percent he garnered in 2004 but still healthy given the GOP’s troubles nationally and in the state.

Mike Ratchford, a top adviser to Castle based in Delaware, said Democrats tell him that the Congressman’s approval and name identification ratings are near 70 percent in Democratic polls. Meanwhile, Wenk said Castle doesn’t fear Democratic plans to target him, explaining that “we like to say this seat is his until he decides to retire.”

However, the Democrats aren’t buying.

Castle is one of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s top 2008 targets, as his seat is one of the eight remaining after November’s Democratic takeover of the House that still has a Republican Representative despite being won by the Democratic presidential nominee in 2004.

Democrats in Delaware claim part of the Republican’s charm — particularly in 2006 — was that he has not faced Democratic candidates who could match him in name recognition and fundraising ability. According to one well-placed Democratic operative based in Delaware, the state party actively is recruiting potential candidates who they believe could offer Castle a competitive race.

Dangling in front of these potential Democratic candidates, some of whom also are contemplating a run for governor and lieutenant governor, is the promise of money and operational support from the national party.

“There are discussions going on behind the scenes to lure someone off of our deep bench to run against Castle,” said this Democratic operative.

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