AG May Be Biden His Time Before a Congressional Run

Posted May 7, 2007 at 6:11pm

With the weather finally warming, Capitol Hill denizens are eagerly anticipating summer and weekends spent along the Delaware shore. For Delawareans, apparently, the feeling isn’t mutual. [IMGCAP(1)]

Two leading Democrats high on party leaders’ list of candidates to challenge Rep. Mike Castle in 2008 — or run for his seat should he run for Senate or retire — have little interest in serving in Washington, D.C., and instead have their sites set on Dover and the governor’s office.

Lt. Gov. John Carney Jr. (D) and state Treasurer Jack Markell (D) are running for governor next year, putting a crimp for now in the Democrats’ plan to recruit a candidate capable of bringing down Castle. Republicans, however,

have a bigger recruiting problem: Their bench of candidates for higher office is all but nonexistent.

“It’s tough in this state when you have two of nine statewide offices,” said Delaware GOP Executive Director Garrett Wozniak.

Heading into 2008, Castle is the Delaware Republican Party.

If, as planned, the moderate Republican runs for a ninth term to Delaware’s at-large House seat, the GOP is a virtual lock to retain the office.

If Sen. Joseph Biden (Del.), a Democratic presidential candidate, won his upstart bid for the nomination or did not seek re-election for any other reason, Castle likely would run for Senate and give Republicans a fighting chance of capturing the seat.

But absent the 67-year-old Castle, Republicans find themselves not just prohibitive underdogs in each of these races but without a viable candidate. Other than perennial candidate Mike Protack (R), who is not considered a serious contender, Republicans don’t have a candidate on the horizon to run for House or Senate in 2008.

“The cupboard is really bare on the Republican side; really bare,” said one longtime observer of Delaware politics.

On the Democratic side, the farm team of players angling to run for Senate whenever Biden leaves office would probably be sizable — if state Attorney General Beau Biden (D) wasn’t considered his father’s heir apparent.

Elected last year, Beau Biden has vowed to serve out his entire four-year term, which means he might not run next year if Sen. Biden either won the Democratic presidential nomination or was offered and accepted a Cabinet position in a Democratic White House. But the Biden political machine appears to be scaring other prospective candidates from even preparing for this scenario.

Delaware’s late July 2008 filing deadline and early September primary gives the elder Biden the option of running for Senate and president simultaneously, as the presidential nomination fight will be decided long before either of those dates.

Sen. Tom Carper (D) just cruised to re-election in November and is not up again until 2012.

After picking up 30 seats in 2006, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has turned its attention to seats it has for years ceded to Republicans without much of a fight. Castle’s seat is among those, and Democrats believe the state’s Democratic leanings could put the Republican in jeopardy if challenged with a well-financed, well-run campaign.

Although Castle won last year with 57 percent of the vote in arguably the worst cycle for Republicans in a generation and remains popular, the DCCC believes the issue that in part defined that election — the Iraq War — will lead to the Congressman’s downfall next year.

“Congressman Castle’s stubborn support for the president’s failed policies in Iraq have forced families in Delaware to look for new leadership,” said DCCC spokeswoman Carrie James.

Because they’re competing in the open-seat gubernatorial race, Carney and Markell may have taken themselves out of the running, at least for now. But Democrats believe there are others available to upset Castle, if they can be enticed to run, including New Castle County Executive Chris Coons (D).

Others on the long list of potential Democratic House seat candidates include state Insurance Commissioner Matthew Denn, Wilmington City Council President Theodore Blunt, Delaware Secretary of State Harriet Smith Windsor and state Rep. Peter Schwartzkopf.

These individuals are all expressing an interest in running for state office, but some Democrats believe the promise of money and logistical support from Washington, D.C., could lure them into challenging Castle.

Republicans, though having a rough go of it lately, are not completely dejected.

Delaware is a small state where personal relationships are the key to success and retail politicking is still king. Though New Castle County in the north is a liberal bastion, Kent County in the center of the state and Sussex County in the south tend to have more conservative sensibilities, despite having more registered Democrats that Republicans.

It is this conservative streak in a good portion of the state that gives Republicans some hope for the future.

Although popular U.S. Attorney Colm Connolly (R) is angling for a federal judgeship and unlikely to run for federal office, there is always a chance he could change his mind in the future. Republicans also feel that over time business leaders will emerge as viable candidates for higher office.

And then there is the possibility that state legislators and two party leaders currently in elective office could blossom into formidable statewide candidates: Delaware House Speaker Terry Spence (R) and state Senate Minority Leader Charles Copeland (R).

“We’re still growing our farm team,” Wozniak said.