Del. Republicans hail signs of revitalized party
Three local wins preceded Castle move

By BETH MILLER — The News Journal

The way the Republicans see it, Mike Castle’s announcement Tuesday that he would run for the U.S. Senate seat Democrat Joe Biden held for almost four decades was just more proof of the obvious:

The tide is turning for the Republican Party in Delaware. The wind is back in the GOP’s sails — why, just look at the Kalmar Nyckel floating by on the Christina River, as if on cue, as if the tall ship of state was off on a gallant, noble, important new mission.

National Committeewoman Priscilla Rakestraw and other Republican leaders point to three consecutive special-election victories, in which GOP candidates — Tom Kovach, Joe Booth, and Ruth Briggs King — won seats in the General Assembly since last November.

Castle was part of all those campaigns, she said.

It wasn’t clear at all that Castle would launch another campaign of his own, though. Some thought the 70-year-old Republican might retire after nine terms in the U.S. House of Representatives, two terms as Delaware’s governor, two as its lieutenant governor and several terms as a state legislator.

“It’s a bit of a surprise to a lot of the so-called political insiders,” said Rhett Ruggerio, former Democratic National Committeeman. “I think they were convinced he was going to retire. But if I’m Mike Castle, I don’t see why I wouldn’t run. … If there’s anybody that has the experience, it’s him.”

Ruggerio said there is no doubt the pendulum has swung slightly in the Republican Party’s favor. Slightly is a key word there.

“But keep in mind Delaware is still a heavily Democratic state, one of the most Democratic in the nation,” he said.

Castle is the Republican Party’s undefeated champion and represents the party’s best hope of winning a U.S. Senate seat, said Gov. Pete du Pont, who was governor from 1977-85 and spent three terms in the U.S. House.

Du Pont was among those who urged Castle to run for the Senate.

“The best elected official we have in terms of running for statewide office obviously is Mike Castle,” said du Pont. “He’s done it a great many times — for governor, for Congress. From a political perspective, that’s a good thing. And even though Delaware is a much more Democratic state than it used to be back when Mike and I were governor, he has a very good chance of winning. He is the best chance the national Republican Party has of gaining a Senate seat.”

And there, du Pont believes, is where Castle’s experience and level-headed insights are most needed now. “From a public policy perspective, he would give a very sensible view of things. … And if you see what the Senate is doing, we need some Republicans who think the way Mike Castle thinks,” du Pont said.

Republican attorney Tim Houseal said the party’s resurgence comes on the heels of a historic and unique presidential election year.

“We were running against the tide then,” Houseal said. “The tide has started to turn. People are going to be very excited. … We need his experience and moderating voice in the Senate.”

The announcement clears the way for Republicans to announce their candidacy for Castle’s House seat.

“Republicans will have an advantage in this election,” said former state GOP chairman Basil Battaglia. “It’s a mid-term election and the president hasn’t pulled his agenda together yet.”

Du Pont said victories in the local special elections show the party has candidates that appeal to Delaware voters now.

But the GOP’s resurgence, while significant for the party, will not decide this race, Democrat Ruggerio said. “I don’t think people will vote party line,” he said. “They’ll vote the individual. And they tend to know both of these candidates.”

That’s what will win the race for Castle, Rakestraw said. Voters will choose Castle’s experience over the Biden name, referring to Attorney General Beau Biden, who many believe will run for his father’s old seat.

“The Biden family has never missed an opportunity to seize a political opportunity,” she said. “I don’t think they will this time, either.”

This time, though, the brands are different, she said. Castle is a proven leader.

“Junior Biden is a new product on the market,” she said. “It’s kind of like Bud and Bud Lite.”