AG Biden considers decision as GOP wins seat
Mass. loss hurts Senate Democrats

By CRIS BARRISH — The News Journal

Republican Scott Brown staged a dramatic political upset Tuesday, capturing the late Ted Kennedy’s longtime Massachusetts seat in the U.S. Senate and possibly signaling a rebuke by voters to President Barack Obama’s policies.

Democrat Martha Coakley, who conceded the race shortly after 9 p.m., was once considered a shoo-in for the seat in the heavily Democratic state. The outcome suggests that even in strong Democratic states — including Delaware — candidates of Obama’s party could face difficulties in the November midterm elections. In recent months, Republicans already have taken the governorships of New Jersey and Virginia from Democrats.

More immediately, Brown will become the 41st Republican in the 100-member Senate, which could enable the GOP to block the president’s health care legislation and the rest of Obama’s agenda. Democrats needed Coakley to win for a 60th vote to thwart Republican filibusters.

One Delaware Democrat, Attorney General Beau Biden, has surely been watching the race in Massachusetts as he ponders whether to seek his father’s old Senate seat in Delaware, political analysts and observers said Tuesday. That election is nine months away.

Many Americans saw the 2008 election as a repudiation of George W. Bush’s presidency, with Obama as the fresh new leader promising to harness the government to expand health care coverage, discipline banks and stimulate the moribund economy.

But Brown’s victory suggests that many voters still harbor suspicions or outright resentment of the federal government, no matter who’s in charge.

Early Tuesday, as Massachusetts voters were going to the polls, former Delaware attorney general and 1994 Senate candidate Charles M. Oberly III said the younger Biden would be taking the result “into consideration.”

Though Coakley had run what Oberly called “an imperial campaign” — erroneously calling former Red Sox star pitcher Curt Schilling a New York Yankees fan and mocking the idea of standing outside Fenway Park to shake hands with people who attended a hockey game — Oberly and others said fellow Democrat Biden, a first-term attorney general, is an astute politician who can gauge the political winds.

“The bottom line is that this result will go into the mix,” Oberly said. “You want to consider everything.”

Biden, who has said only that he is “absolutely, absolutely” considering a run for the office that his father, Joe — now the U.S. vice president — held for 36 years, would not discuss the outcome in Massachusetts or his deliberative process.

Nine-term Republican Congressman Mike Castle, who announced his candidacy for the Senate seat in October, also would not comment on Biden’s thinking.

The seat is now held by Democrat Ted Kauffman, a longtime aide and adviser to Joe Biden who was appointed by Gov. Ruth Ann Minner in late 2008. Kauffman is not running for the open seat.

Stu Rothenberg, editor of the nonpartisan Rothenberg Political Report, agreed with Oberly and others that the Massachusetts race would factor into Biden’s political calculations.

“I don’t know whether it pushes him into not running, but it would definitely play into his thinking,” Rothenberg said. “If he doesn’t run, I don’t think he’s going to say it’s because of Scott Brown, but my take is that it will be another bit of information he will chew over to make a decision.”

G. Terry Madonna, director of the Floyd Institute’s Center for Politics and Public Affairs at Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, Pa., said the Brown victory could give Biden serious pause. “That would cause Biden to have real, real second thoughts about jumping into a race like this,” said Madonna, who earned his master’s and doctoral degrees at the University of Delaware.

While Delaware Democrats have a 17-percentage-point registration edge over Republicans, the state is not nearly as Democratic as Massachusetts and Castle is a popular politician who has fashioned a reputation as a moderate.

Also, Madonna said, the race is a midterm election two years after a presidential vote, one that almost always favors the minority party, in this case the Republicans. Reinforcing that tendency, Madonna said, is the fact that the nation remains mired in a recession.

“Voters look at the current situation and think about whether the country is getting better, and at the moment they are not that optimistic about the future,” he said, “Confidence levels have sunk. So I think there has to be some reassessing going on if you are on the Biden side.”

University of Delaware political science professor Joseph A. Pika said the Coakley loss could move Biden either way.

Coupled with the possibility of losing other open seats in states such as Connecticut, Nevada and North Dakota might “relieve pressure” on Biden to seek the seat to help the Democrats maintain their 60-40 edge, Pika said.

“But, on the other hand, I could also see [the Coakley loss] increasing pressure with another Democrat seat being lost and the Democrats at 59 heading into the fall.”

Pika had expected Biden to declare his candidacy around Thanksgiving, but that didn’t occur. “It seems like it’s getting later every day,” the professor said.

Rhett Ruggerio, former Democratic national committeeman for Delaware, fully expects Biden to run, but is certain “he’s watching other races because it gives a general feel to where the country is. And I don’t think there’s any doubt the pendulum has swung back to Republicans.”

But when push comes to shove, Ruggerio said, the verdict of the voters in Massachusetts will likely be only an afterthought for Biden.

“He’s going to rely on polling that he’ll do and take the temperature there versus reading these races nationally. He’s looking at his specific vulnerabilities and strengths.”

This article contains information from the Associated Press.