Beau won’t run for Senate


For months, Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden has been courted by national Democrats, including his father, Vice President Joe Biden, to run for his dad’s former U.S. Senate seat.

The drumbeat, fueled by Beau Biden himself, grew so strong that political insiders and pundits in Delaware and beyond said it was a near-certainty he would enter the race against Republican Mike Castle, Delaware’s nine-term U.S. representative, in what was shaping up as one of the hottest races in America.

The contest is not to be. On Monday, the younger Biden dashed those hopes, saying he would instead seek a second four-year term as attorney general.

The move leaves Democrats scrambling to find a candidate to run against Castle in November for the Senate seat Joe Biden held for 36 years.

With a thinning field and little time left to launch a serious campaign, New Castle County Executive Chris Coons, now in his second term, emerged as the front-runner to challenge Castle for the seat.

“I am seriously considering running for the open U.S. Senate seat in Delaware,” Coons said. “I see this as an important opportunity to draw a contrast and give Delaware a chance for a strong candidate from my party. I think Delaware needs a senator who is going to fight hard for working people, is going to be able to help business create jobs and keep our communities safe — the things I’ve done every day as county executive.”

Coons spent the day fielding calls from national media and friends and politicians inside and outside Delaware. Coons and Lt. Gov. Matt Denn, also considered a potential candidate, “have traded messages,” Coons said. Former Lt. Gov. John Carney, who is running for Castle’s vacated House seat, also spoke with Coons Monday evening.

“I need some time to meet with my family and those who are close to me to make a final decision, and I will do so within a matter of days, no more than a week,” Coons said. “It has been a remarkable day. I’ve gotten a whole range of calls.”

Biden said the main reason for his decision was that a Senate campaign would take his focus away from “a case of great consequence” — the prosecution of Dr. Earl B. Bradley, the pediatrician from Lewes accused of being a pedophile. Bradley, 56, was charged in December with raping nine girl patients from 3 months to 13 years old. Prosecutors have said the number of victims dating back to 1998 could surpass 100.

“It became very crystal clear that it was simply impossible to continue to focus my attention, which is like a laser on the case in Lewes, and at the same time mount a Senate campaign,” the 40-year-old Biden said.

“My responsibility is to make sure that I do everything to prosecute the case to the fullest extent of the law and do everything I can for the victims.”

Castle, 70, who announced his candidacy in October and has consistently led in polls of the hypothetical matchup, said he respects Biden’s decision, calling it “not only a political one but a very personal one.” Castle noted that Biden is married with two young children, and returned to Delaware in October after a year in Iraq with his National Guard unit.

Still, Castle said, he was “somewhat” surprised and hinted at disappointment that the much-ballyhooed race would not take place. “I thought all along Beau would be my opponent,” he said.

Castle also raised the possibility that should he win, he might not seek re-election in 2014. Retirement is “certainly a possibility,” Castle said.

A difficult decision

Biden, who would not discuss his future beyond November’s election, rejected the suggestion that other factors — the recent loss by a Democrat in the race for Sen. Ted Kennedy’s longtime seat; the polls showing Castle ahead; and a spate of collapsed murder cases handled by his office — played a role in his decision.

“No,” he said, without elaboration.

Biden would not say exactly when he and his wife, Hallie, made the decision, saying only that it was “over the last several weeks.” He would not discuss his father’s role.

“I was humbled by the encouragement I got from a lot of different corners, but the reality is that this is a decision that Hallie and I made,” Biden said. “The whole family is supportive of the decision.”

Although Vice President Biden had wanted his son to run, he applauded Beau’s decision in a written statement. “I know I sound like the proud father I am, but all of his life, Beau has put duty above any personal ambition, and this decision today is another example of that exceptional character trait.”

Deirdre Murphy, spokeswoman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, had said last week her group “fully expects and hopes Beau Biden will run.” But Monday, she would not comment on Biden’s decision, saying in a written statement that “there will be a strong Democratic candidate for Senate in Delaware.”

National Republican Senatorial Committee spokesman Colin Reed said in a statement that Biden’s decision “represents a major recruiting setback for national Democrats, who have been counting on his candidacy to keep the vice president’s former seat in Democratic control. As we saw in Massachusetts last week, voters clearly stated that these seats belong to the people — not to either political party or dynasty.”

Castle said Delawareans need a “strong and independent voice” in the Senate, adding that his commitment “has never been stronger.”

A formidable foe

Without a Biden seeking the office for the first time in nearly four decades, Democrats must find a candidate against Castle, a former two-term governor and one of the most popular politicians in Delaware history. Castle has $1.7 million in his campaign fund.

Two nonpartisan political newsletters in Washington said Monday that the GOP’s prospects of capturing a seat that has eluded them for 37 years are looking rosier.

After Biden’s announcement, the Cook Political Report recast the Senate race from “toss-up” to “solid Republican.”

Stu Rothenberg, editor of the Rothenberg Political Report, called Monday’s development “a severe blow to Democrats’ chances of holding this Senate seat in November. All of the dominos are falling in the GOP’s direction this election cycle, and Delaware is merely the latest one to go.”

The president’s party typically loses congressional seats in the mid-term elections, a process that began last week when Republican Scott Brown won Ted Kennedy’s old seat in Massachusetts, costing Democrats their filibuster-proof 60-40 majority. Besides Delaware, the GOP has targeted Senate seats in North Dakota, Nevada, Colorado and Connecticut, among others.

“I would say the Democrats are deeply disappointed and find themselves in the worst of places right now,” said Jennifer Duffy, a Cook political analyst. “Not only do they have a problem in Delaware, because they need a candidate, but this feeds into the larger narrative of how much trouble they’re going to be in in November.”

Search for a candidate

The seat is open only because Joe Biden became vice president. In 2008, he ran for both vice president and his Senate seat, which he won handily.

That left Gov. Ruth Ann Minner to name his replacement, and she chose Ted Kaufman, Joe Biden’s longtime aide and adviser. Senate terms are six years, but when an interim senator is named, by law, the seat must go up for election again during the next congressional election — in this case, 2010 — so the election in November will be for the remaining four years of the term.

Though Joe Biden said last week he hoped Kaufman would run if Beau did not, Kaufman reiterated Monday what he said when he was appointed — he’s only an interim senator.

“Serving the people of Delaware in the U.S. Senate is as fulfilling, challenging, and humbling as I imagined when I was appointed,” Kaufman said in a written statement. “But as I said at the time, I will not seek election to a full term.”

Beau Biden said Delaware has a “deep bench” of Democrats from which to field a candidate, though in interviews with political insiders Monday, the only name that emerged was Coons’.

A Coons candidacy would not jeopardize his position as county executive. He is in his second term, which doesn’t end until January 2013. By law, he cannot seek a third term.

Rhett Ruggerio, former Democratic national committeeman for Delaware, said Coons, former legal counsel at W.L. Gore & Associates, “can raise money, is a great debater and will campaign his butt off.”

Coons “knows the issues,” Ruggerio said. “If you ask him about health care, he’s going to give you the sort of response that will knock your socks off. You can’t hit him with an issue on the forefront of Congress that he’s not well-versed on.”

John Daniello, chairman of the Democratic Party, called Coons “a fine possibility.”

Though Castle has not lost once in 11 previous statewide elections, Delaware has become increasingly Democratic in recent years. As of Jan. 1, registered Democrats outnumbered Republicans 287,821 to 180,479, with 143,167 voters registered in another party or unaffiliated.

Democratic spokeswoman Murphy called Castle a vulnerable “long-term, establishment Republican who supports the very policies that led our country into fiscal crisis.

“From voting against financial protections for consumers to voting against a critical jobs bill, Mike Castle walks in lock step with Republicans. Come November, the people of Delaware aren’t going to put someone in the Senate who will do nothing but carry water for the Republicans.”

‘A job to finish’

When Beau Biden returned from Iraq, he said on ABC’s “Good Morning America” he was “absolutely, absolutely” considering a Senate run.

Even as the weeks and months passed without any decision, observers said Biden still had time and enough of a national profile with his father as vice president to raise the millions of dollars needed to challenge Castle.

But at 9:29 a.m. Monday, Biden campaign spokesman Joe Rogalsky e-mailed The News Journal with the subject line: “Message from Beau Biden: My Duty.”

The e-mail was a letter to supporters, in which he acknowledged he gave “serious consideration” to a Senate campaign.

Biden’s letter cited the nation’s “extraordinarily difficult” challenges — the economy, health care, energy and other issues — as ones that will determine our children’s future.

Biden’s letter added: “As someone who has had the privilege of serving with the bravest men and women on this planet, I care deeply about how we treat our returning veterans and how we resolve our involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

The bottom line, though, Biden wrote, is that “my first responsibilities are here in Delaware. … I have a job to finish. And that’s what I must do.”

Said Daniello: “I truly believe the [Bradley rape case] played a big role in it. Beau’s not the type of person to give on something he’s working on.”

Delaware’s other senator, Democrat Tom Carper, said Biden made a sensible choice.

“He’s got plenty to do right where he is,” Carper said. “I just don’t think he felt good about just walking away from those responsibilities as AG and not seeing his wife and children for the next six months.”