Castle vs. Coons
The campaign for Joe Biden’s U.S. Senate seat is a major political battle, not only in Delaware, but across the country. Could the high stakes upset the Delaware Way?
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Chris Coons: elected to New Castle County Council in 2000. Since then he has served two terms as county executive.
Mike Castle: elected to the Delaware House of Representatives in 1966. (Coons was three years old.) Since then Castle has run successfully for the state Senate, for lieutenant governor, governor and, in 1992, for Congress, where he has served nine terms—longer than any U. S. representative in First State history. Over 44 years, he has brushed aside opponents by comfortable margins in 14 elections.
Coons and Castle—long-time acquaintances, almost neighbors in Wilmington, both graduates of Tower Hill School—are facing off in a special election for the U.S. Senate. The race has major implications across the country—and, if outside forces gain sway, it may become a departure from the usually collegial tenor of political campaigns in Delaware.
The winner in November will serve the four years remaining in the term of Joe Biden, who resigned to become vice president. The Senate is divided 59-41 in favor of the Democrats, one seat shy of the 60-vote super-majority needed to avoid filibuster, the main roadblock to passing legislation. The Democrats are vulnerable in seven or eight Senate races across the country, including one for Barack Obama’s old Senate seat in Illinois. Republicans won the late Ted Kennedy’s seat in Massachusetts in January. Every seat is thus crucial to each party, especially one that has been Democratic since 1972, when Biden nudged out Republican U.S. Senator J. Caleb Boggs.
The similarities between that race and this year’s are striking. Back then, Biden was a first-term county councilman running against a popular incumbent. Boggs was completing his second term as senator after serving three terms as U.S. Representative and two terms as governor. Biden turned 30 that year. Boggs was 61. The challenger won with a narrow 1.4 percent margin.
This year’s aspirants are a bit longer of tooth: Coons is 46, Castle 71. Age aside, Castle is no Boggs. Boggs was a reluctant candidate; he ran only after President Richard Nixon helicoptered into Wilmington to schmooze him. Castle is a dedicated and energetic campaigner—the clear favorite in early polls. His name recognition in Delaware probably is matched only by Biden’s.
“A huge percentage of the electorate has met [Castle], and they’ve pulled the lever for him,” says Dave Burris, a Republican leader from Sussex County. “Once people pull that lever or push that button, that creates kind of a bond between them and that candidate. And having done it so many times for Mike Castle, they’re going to need a reason not to vote for him.”
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