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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In Congress, Castle has served on several important committees. He’s worked for welfare reform, a balanced budget, the Crime Bill, No Child Left Behind and campaign finance reform. A moderate, he drew attention for breaking with President George W. Bush by advocating stem cell research. Castle is adept at getting and keeping supporters, and supporters of all political persuasions. One of the most frequent adjectives applied to him is “affable.”
“Maybe his biggest strength is that he has very few enemies,” says John Flaherty, lobbyist and former longtime head of Common Cause of Delaware. “To be in office this long and have so few enemies is a real achievement.”
The son of a DuPont patent lawyer, Castle was born and raised in Wilmington. After graduating from Tower Hill, where he played basketball, he attended Hamilton College, then Georgetown Law School, after which he joined the Wilmington firm of Connolly Bove Lodge. He became a deputy attorney general in1965 and was elected to the Delaware House in 1966. Since then his only break from politics was the four years from 1976 to 1980, when he formed a law firm with Carl Schnee, a prominent Democrat.
In his younger days, Castle maintained a strong presence in the Delaware sports and social scenes. He formed teams in local basketball and touch football leagues. (One gridiron opponent remembers him as a fierce competitor whose skills were exceeded by his scrappiness), and in the 1970s he and Schnee were partners in the Bottle & Cork, the popular bar in Dewey Beach. He came late to marriage, wedding Jane DiSabatino in 1992. They have no children.
Also in 1992, Castle and Democratic Congressman Tom Carper in essence switched jobs. Term limits required Castle to retire as governor, so he ran for Carper’s seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. Carper became the Democratic candidate for governor. Both won handily.
Castle and Coons aren’t quite so chummy, but their race is unlikely to produce many fireworks—at least from the candidates themselves.
Outside forces may not be so respectful. A Supreme Court ruling in January loosened campaign finance restrictions on corporations and unions. That could bring big advertising dollars into the state.
Flaherty is among those who predicts some nasty TV spots, similar to the ones that appeared on Philadelphia stations during last year’s heated race for governor in New Jersey.
“Advertising money goes a long way here, particularly downstate,” Flaherty says. He foresees many spots on WBOC (channel 16) and WMDT (channel 47), which serve Kent and Sussex counties out of Salisbury, Maryland.
Flaherty expects Coons, who has only run in New Castle County, to spend most of his ad funds south of the canal, where he’s a virtual unknown.
“He’s got his work cut out for him. But keep in mind, Biden only ran countywide once [before opposing Boggs], and Coons has run countywide three times. I’m not saying Coons is going to duplicate what Biden accomplished, but it can be done. It’s amazing how people can change their minds really quickly with an effective ad campaign.”
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