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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Says Burris, “If I’m out there with $10 million saying you’re a bad guy, and you’re out there with $3 million saying you’re not, I’m probably right,” he says. “That’s a sad, sad thing to say, but when you have voters who are busy with mortgages, kids and T-ball practice, they don’t necessarily take the time to look into what these guys are about. That being the case, negative ads make a difference, sometimes a big difference.”
Dave Anderson, editor of delawarepolitics.net, a conservative Website, predicts ad dollars will pour in if the race looks to be at all close. “It will start becoming clear in August which races are in play around the country,” Anderson says. “If Castle has a 25-point lead, then the money will probably go to races elsewhere, like California, New York or Pennsylvania.”
Both candidates are distancing themselves from anything smacking of the negative. “I worry about it, and I believe Chris worries about it,” says Castle. “I basically present a positive campaign. I present my ideas and concepts, and defend the attacks that will inevitably come. I don’t focus on my opponent unduly in these campaigns. I try to convince people of my own record and what I’ve been able to do.”
Coons says he already has reached out to one group that may create attack ads and asked them not to, for a practical reason. “I frankly think it backfires,” he says. “And I think people who aren’t from Delaware think they would be helping through these ads, and I don’t think Delawareans like or respond well to personal attacks or purely negative campaigns. I think they expect us to campaign hard, but I intend to focus on the issues and our voting record.”
A competitive campaign for U.S. Senate costs about $5 million in Delaware. Carper spent $4.6 million when he ousted longtime Senator Bill Roth in 2000. By early April, Castle had amassed about $2.3 million, while Coons reported $635,000 in donations.
Most observers portray Coons as the toughest competition Delaware’s only congressman has faced in a long time. While Castle is “affable,” the favorite adjective for Coons seems to be “smart.”
After graduating from Tower Hill nearly a quarter-century after Castle, Coons went on to collect impressive academic credentials. He was a double major—chemistry and political science—at Amherst College. He then earned a degree from Yale Law School, snagged a master’s in ethics from Yale’s Divinity School, and entertained thoughts of becoming a Presbyterian minister. Instead, he went to work at W.L. Gore as in-house counsel for eight years, and worked for several non-profits, including the Council for the Homeless, the “I Have a Dream” Foundation and the South African Council of Churches. He and his wife, Annie, have three children: twins Michael and Jack and daughter Maggie.
Coons’ first elective position was as a delegate from Wilmington to the 1996 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. After winning a seat on New Castle County Council in 2000, he was elected to two terms as county executive. Coming into office on the heels of the scandal-ridden Tom Gordon-Sherry Freebery regime, Coons said his job was “to clean this place up.” He cut $130 million in spending, achieved a AAA bond rating for the county, imposed strict new ethical standards, and launched a Safe Streets partnership to remove violent parole offenders from neighborhoods.
As county executive, he displayed a talent for the minutia of government, a talent some believe foretells his future.
“Chris Coons is an extraordinarily bright guy and a policy wonk,” says Rick Jensen, afternoon talk show host on Wilmington radio station WDEL. “He can talk with you about sewage policies and placement and usage. I think he would enjoy working in a federal agency where he can make a meaningful contribution to national policy.”
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