The Most Thankless Jobs In State Politics

By CRIS BARRISH — The News Journal

Dennis Spivack, who has been sound enough for the past 30 years to practice law, nevertheless took on the most thankless job in Delaware politics Tuesday by declaring his candidacy as the Democrat running against U.S. Rep. Michael N. Castle, the seven-term Republican secure in statewide offices since 1980.

Spivack entered the race for the state’s lone seat in the U.S. House of Representatives by battling for credibility, insisting he could give Castle a run for his money, which happens to be a well-stocked campaign treasury of $1.2 million.

It got Spivack points for guts, at least.

Rhett D. Ruggerio, the Democratic national committeeman, was moved to quote Amway founder Richard M. DeVos, who said, “It is impossible to win the race unless you venture to run, impossible to win the victory unless you dare to battle.”

Lisa B. Goodman, a fellow lawyer, regarded Spivack from the never-say-never school of politics. “I am ever hopeful. You never know — maybe the electorate will wake up and realize how bad a job the Republican Party is doing,” she said.

Spivack himself seemed unafraid of the odds against Castle — “He has never confronted anybody like me” — and perhaps could believe in a political miracle because he has seen a medical one.

An active Democrat in the 1960s and 1970s, Spivack gave it up for his wife Marcia’s 17-year-long bout with breast cancer, but she is in remission and was with him Tuesday as he jumped back in.

Spivack returned with all the zest of someone taking on an old boss — which he was. He worked for Castle from 1978 to 1980 at the Wilmington law firm of Schnee & Castle. Something must have been in the water there, because Spivack is the third member of that five-lawyer practice to run, along with Castle and Carl Schnee, who was the 2002 Democratic candidate for attorney general.

The contest came down to pure politics for Spivack. “We can no longer afford to be represented in Congress by a rubber-stamper and enabler for Bush-DeLay-Cheney policies,” he said.

His best applause line in front of about 75 people who heard his announcement speech in Wilmington was his criticism of the Iraq War: “This ill-advised conflict has achieved little and has fanned the flames of anti-American sentiment around the world.”

Separating Castle from the voters will be close to amputation. He is right up there with the most formidable politicians of the day.

Castle is not the longest-serving statewide officeholder in state history, a distinction that belongs to the late U.S. Sen. William V. Roth Jr., a Republican who spent 34 years in Washington, although U.S. Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. will pass him next year before the Democrat’s sixth term is over.

Nor does Castle hold the record for statewide victories, with his 10 elections as lieutenant governor, governor and congressman still one fewer than U.S. Sen. Thomas R. Carper, a Democrat who previously was state treasurer, congressman and governor.

What Castle does have is stratospheric winning percentages, often polling upwards of 70 percent, even as Delaware’s statewide voting tendencies trend Democratic, Democratic, Democratic.

Castle’s tallies are both the cause and effect of his national presence as a moderate Republican, a rare political breed that is endangered on Capitol Hill but ensures his prosperity at home. He has made his reputation on such issues as stem cell research, the environment and deficit reduction.

It has made Castle one of the last two statewide Republicans still standing — along with state Auditor R. Thomas Wagner Jr., who also is up this year.

As much as keeping Castle in office means to his party, even a Republican can appreciate what Spivack is trying to do. George C. Hering III, once the state House Republican speaker, served with Castle in the legislature in the 1960s but also was Spivack’s law partner at Morris James Hitchens & Williams.

Hering came to watch Spivack declare his candidacy. “There are too few people willing to step up, no matter what party,” Hering said.