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MARY LOUISE KELLY, host:

From NPR News, it's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Mary Louise Kelly.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block.

Our co-host, Robert Siegel, is in Delaware, where this evening the candidates for Senate are debating on television. Christopher Coons is the Democrat, and the county executive of Delaware's biggest county. The Republican is Christine O'Donnell - a Tea Party-backed conservative activist. She won the primary against a popular moderate Republican: former Delaware Governor Mike Castle. He sat down with Robert yesterday in Wilmington for an exit interview.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Mike Castle is one of an endangered species, the Northeastern Republican: fiscally cautious, socially progressive and able to swim in a sea of Democrats. For 18 years, this tall, lean, direct-descendant of Benjamin Franklin has been Delaware's lone congressman. When he announced for the seat that Vice President Biden vacated, his election seemed a forgone conclusion. But in the primary campaign, Castle was criticized for his votes for the TARP, for cap and trade, for the bill that would enforce disclosure of donors to groups that fund political advertising.

Representative MIKE CASTLE (Republican, Delaware): And then I was even criticized because I was not assertive enough with respect to the Obama health care plan, which I happened to vote against in committee, in the House, and in the final version when it came over from the Senate. But there are those who said that, you know, you should be calling for repeal right away, and that kind of thing. So, you know, all those were elements that fed the other side in this particular election.

SIEGEL: In the September primary, in which only Republicans could vote, Mike Castle, who counted on the votes of independents and Democrats each November, lost to O'Donnell. She had the support of Sarah Palin and the Tea Party Express.

Mike Castle talked with me about where that leaves Republicans like him, and what Republicans unlike him mean for the GOP.

Rep. CASTLE: They brought to the Republican Party a sense of energy, a sense of fiscal responsibility, and I think had done some very positive things. On the other hand, they have managed to nominate candidates who are not necessarily ones who are going to have that much appeal to independents and Democrats, and may have trouble getting elected. So, it - there's going to be a lot of finger-pointing and back and forth once the election takes place, I believe.

SIEGEL: And here in Delaware, do you support, do you actively or passively support the Republican candidate?

Rep. CASTLE: I have made the decision to stay out of it. I, in no way, want to harm the Republican candidate for the Senate, or the Republican candidate for the House of Representatives. But I have also made the decision, in the Senate race, to at least not to become involved in endorsing. There were some personal issues and other aspects of my primary campaign that were very disquieting, and for that reason, you know, I think I'm best just leaving it alone.

SIEGEL: What do you say to conservative Republicans - this year they might be allied with the Tea Party Movement - who would call you, as they used to call Senator Specter in Pennsylvania, a RINO: a Republican In Name Only.

Rep. CASTLE: Well, I would say that those individuals do not understand the Republican Party. They do not understand what you have to do in some parts of the country in order to get elected. That they tend to single out any place from two to four, five, six votes that you may have cast, and declare that you're a RINO, or whatever, and don't look at the overall track record of what you may have achieved or accomplished. As a result of that, they come up with their own methodology and clientele.

SIEGEL: Is there today an effective, natural home for, let's say good government, fiscally conservative politics, which is not necessarily defined by hot-button social issues.

Rep. CASTLE: I think that the answer to that is no. My belief is, that you're either a red hot conservative, go by the Constitution, don't spend anything, Republican - which is again embodied in the Tea Party group, if you will - or you are a Democrat who's generally portrayed as a big spender, or whatever it may be. In both parties you have the threat of, you know, individuals primarying, and it's made it very hard for Republicans to sit down with Democrats and try to work out the solutions.

SIEGEL: One person Mike Castle admires is New York City's mayor, Michael Bloomberg, a successful entrepreneur turned politician, he says. Talk with Bloomberg, Castle says, and you'll hear more good ideas than from the next six politicians youre going to speak with. Bloomberg supported Mike Castle's primary campaign, as did the Republican Senate Campaign Committee. Labeled a liberal by his critics, Castle's campaign commercials described him as a fiscal conservative you can trust.

(Soundbite from campaign ad)

Rep. CASTLE: Under President Obama and the Democratic House and Senate, we are increasing debt at a rate that we've never seen before. Candidly, I don't know how we're going to be able to work our way through the economic problems that we have out there if we continue to spend at these levels.

SIEGEL: Focused as he was on November, Mike Castle admits he took his eye off the ball in the primary. When the votes were counted, O'Donnell had 30,000, Castle had 27,000.

Rep. CASTLE: Obviously we should've focused more on it and spent more time, if nothing else, educating people. And we have a closed primary here. I have a lot of support from Democrats and independents. We probably should have encouraged people to switch their political registrations as well.

SIEGEL: At some point before election night, did it become clear to you that you were about to lose the nominee.

Rep. CASTLE: No, it didn't.

SIEGEL: Right until the end?

Rep. CASTLE: Our polling had shown that I was ahead. Our phoning had also indicated that we were doing well enough certainly to win the race. So I was surprised by the final outcome - was not shocked by it. I did realize that there was some intensity out there in the opposition to me, but nonetheless, I was surprised at the final outcome. And it was a function of - they were fired up. They were more enthusiastic.

SIEGEL: Come January, 71-year-old Republican Mike Castle, who was a state legislator in the 1960s and '70s, lieutenant governor and governor of Delaware in the 1980s and '90s, and member of Congress ever since, will be out of a job. He says that as of now he has no idea what he'll do next.

This is Robert Siegel in Newcastle, Delaware.

KELLY: And tomorrow, Robert brings us a report on the candidates who are in the race to fill Delaware's open Senate seat. That's the Tea Party-backed Republican Christine O'Donnell, who defeated Mike Castle, and her Democratic challenger, Christopher Coons.

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