5 ways Castle can lose the Delaware Senate race


New Castle County Executive Chris Coons said Tuesday he’s “leaning towards running” for Delaware’s open Senate seat, one day after Democrat Beau Biden announced he would not run.

Top Democrats fell in behind his expected candidacy, with the News Journal reporting that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Vice President Joe Biden both called Coons to encourage him to run.

“Chris is the only logical person,” Rhett Ruggerio, former Democratic national committeeman for Delaware, told the News Journal. “And it just so happens that he wants it. I don’t see anybody else out there.”

If Coons does join the race, he’ll begin as a heavy underdog against Republican Rep. Mike Castle. The respected Cook Political Report has already rated the race as “solid Republican.”

But here are five reasons why Democrats could pull off a major upset over Castle.

The Coakley scenario

Just as in Massachusetts, where complacency helped pave the way for Republican Scott Brown’s comeback victory last week, it’s not hard to envision a set of circumstances where Republicans get overconfident and the Democratic nominee surges from behind for an eventual victory.

There are lots of reasons for the GOP to assume this one is in the bag: Castle is a former two-term governor and a popular nine-term member of Congress. In a Monday poll testing a potential contest with Coons, Castle has a wide 56 percent to 27 percent advantage—that’s almost exactly the spread between Brown and Coakley when that matchup was first tested in September.

The complacency storyline is one of the oldest in politics—Congress is filled with members who won their offices by beating the odds and knocking off heavy favorites who never saw it coming until it was too late.

The Republican Party

Though it’s not widely regarded as a bastion of liberalism, Delaware’s blue state credentials are impeccable. It’s been more than 20 years since a GOP presidential nominee carried the state and in 2008, President Barack Obama won 62 percent of the vote there—the exact same percentage he won in his home state of Illinois and the exact same as in heavily Democratic Massachusetts.

Against that backdrop, Castle’s Republican Party label is a detriment. If the national party veers too far to the right during the 2010 campaign, or the opposition to Obama becomes too shrill, the Senate race would be the logical place on the ballot for voters to push back since the open House race doesn’t appear to be competitive.

The angry electorate

While all signs point to a harsh political climate for Democratic candidates, polling also reveals deep anger toward members of Congress in both parties. And Castle, despite being well-liked, has been serving in Congress since 1993. That opens up numerous avenues of attack, including for his service in the GOP majority.

The energy gap

The 70-year-old Castle has held office nearly continuously since 1966, when as a 27-year-old he first won election to the Delaware House. Coons, at 46 years old, is roughly a quarter-century younger.

Castle’s age and vigor inevitably will be a key issue, even it’s unspoken. It’s an especially salient point in Delaware, where a 30-year-old Joe Biden won his Senate seat in 1972 with an energetic campaign against a well-known 63-year-old incumbent, and where Sen. Tom Carper won his seat in 2000 by knocking off 70-year-old incumbent Sen. William Roth, whose age showed on the campaign trail.

The calendar

There are 10 long months until Election Day. A lot can transpire between now and then.

Think of how dramatically the political landscape has changed in just the last 10 months. The president’s standing in the polls has diminished considerably. The GOP Senate prospects went from grim to very promising. House Republicans went from being shell-shocked to talking about winning back the majority. Who knows, by November the economy could be back on track, removing a powerful arrow from the GOP quiver. In other words, anything can happen.