Will Castle pull a Murkowski and wage a write-in campaign?
Will it be another case of a sore loser trying to win a Senate seat after voters already rejected him in the primary? Or will it be a declaration by the moderate wing of the Republican Party that enough is enough with these Tea Party folks?
Whatever it is, it looks like Rep. Mike Castle (R-Del.), his all-but-assured trip to the Senate derailed in the Sept. 14 primary by evangelical upstart Christine O'Donnell, is seriously considering continuing his campaign by waging a write-in effort. It is the same strategy being waged in Alaska by Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who unexpectedly lost her primary battle with a Tea Party candidate.
Castle has been a political giant in Delaware since his first election to the state Legislature in 1966. Elected lt. gov. and then two terms as governor, he has won nine terms as the state's only member of the House; in the Democratic year of 2008, with Joe Biden on the ballot as a candidate for the Senate and vice president, Castle nonetheless received 61 percent of the vote.
And when Biden left the Senate and helped arrange the appointment of his pal Ted Kaufman (D) as a placeholder, many thought Castle was going to waltz into the seat in November 2010.
Not the Tea Party. Their vision of the Republican Party does not include people like Castle, whose liberal voting record and frequent alliance with Democrats are anathema to what they stand for.
But as popular as he has been with the statewide electorate, there is no guarantee a write-in effort will go over well. Yes, it's true, it's easier to spell "Castle" than it is to spell "Murkowski," which helps his chances. But Ron Williams of the Wilmington News Journal writes such a campaign, while understandable, "has several negatives to it, not the least of which is there's always the possibility of losing again and going out as a two-time loser instead of a gracious one-timer":
Castle hasn't yet congratulated or endorsed the kookie Christine O'Donnell, who with the help of a couple million bucks from the Tea Party Express people, unceremoniously knocked off the winningest political figure in Delaware history. (Given her distortions of his record and personal smears, I don't blame him for not endorsing.)
O'Donnell won every district in the state with the exception of New Castle County's northernmost ones. That was an agonizing showing for Castle against a candidate who has no known source of income, other than campaign contributions, "dabbled" in witchcraft, lied about her college degree and how many votes she received in 2008, and ... well, you've heard it a hundred times on national television and radio.
Yes, Williams adds, Castle has to be frustrated by the fact that he "was defeated by a political tsunami that was fueled by right-wing bloggers, blowhards and anti-cap and traders, many of whom don't even know what the legislation really says." But there's also a "public perception problem. Some voters would look at the write-in candidacy as sour grapes and see Castle as egotistical. And even though that's never been Castle's persona, both [Democratic nominee Chris] Coons and O'Donnell would be justified to make it a campaign issue." His advice: "Castle would be better off to retire graciously from the scene."
Conservative Jonah Goldberg, writing in the Los Angeles Times, says there is a new mindset in the GOP:
The Limbaugh Law replaced the William F. Buckley Rule. The latter held that conservatives should vote for the most rightward electable candidate. The Limbaugh Law says that when the country is in open revolt against liberalism and Republicans are riding an election wave, you should vote conservative every time. Time will tell which side will lose that debate, but one thing is already clear: The tea parties won.
And Marc Thiessen, a former Bush speechwriter, wrote in the Washington Post the other day that for all the complaints about how the Tea Party is hurting the GOP, it's people like Murkowski (and presumably Castle, should he decide to go write-in), who are doing the real damage:
All last week, we heard the GOP establishment complain how the Tea Party is threatening Republican unity by pursuing "ideological purity" at the expense of a "big tent" party. But Tea Party-endorsed candidates are the ones who have stayed within the GOP tent. Rather than launching destructive third-party bids, fiscally conservative insurgents have contested GOP primaries -- and when they have lost, they have endorsed their establishment opponents virtually without fail.
Contrast that with the record of the establishment candidates. When it became clear Charlie Crist would lose to Marco Rubio in Florida's Senate race, Crist bolted the GOP and decided to run as an independent. When Arlen Specter saw he would lose to Pat Toomey in Pennsylvania's Senate race, he became a Democrat. And, after losing the GOP nomination in Alaska, Murkowski is running as an independent write-in candidate. And yet, we are told that it is the Tea Party that is dividing the GOP and threatening party unity. For establishment candidates, unity seems to be a one-way street. The message to Tea Party activists across the country is: We want your votes but not your candidates.
Mike Castle has until Sept. 30 to decide what he will do.