The Courtship of Mike Castle
By Ben Pershing
UPDATE 12:30 PM: Castle just released a statement taking himself out of the running for the Education Committee position. "Since I am not ready to announce a final decision on whether to run for the House, the Senate, or anything, and knowing House Republican leaders value continuity in this position, it would be unfair to pursue the ranking member post at this point in time," he said.
ORIGINAL POST: Michael Castle turns 70 next month, and he has been Delaware's lone House member since 1993. He has battled his own leadership on everything from the budget to education to health care. He has seen the GOP win the majority, and then lose it, and he is now one of the few remaining moderates in a Republican Conference that has grown both smaller and more conservative.
Given all that, there seemed in recent months to be two paths Castle could take in 2010. He could simply choose to retire from public service. Or, more intriguingly, he could run for the Senate seat recently vacated by Vice President Biden and now held by presumed caretaker Ted Kaufman (D). It seemed clear that Castle would choose one of those two options, though it wasn't clear when.
Now, however, a third possibility has emerged that has complicated Castle's calculus and set off a tug-of-war between House and Senate GOP leaders. A series of dominoes fell that left the ranking Republican slot on the House Education and the Workforce Committee vacant, and Castle a prime contender for the post -- if he wants it.
Asked Wednesday about his interest in the panel position, Castle said: "I'm interested but I'm not going to make any commitments about my future."
That vow appears to make Castle a long shot to secure the post, since Republican leaders want to fill it in the next few weeks and Castle gives no indication that he will have made up his mind within that time frame. The GOP won't hand Castle the job if he won't pledge to stay in the chamber, particularly since his moderate views already rub some of his more conservative colleagues the wrong way. Other contenders for the Education post include Reps. Joe Wilson (S.C.) and John Kline (Minn.).
But some House Republicans are still hoping to persuade Castle to remain in the chamber. The party's top leaders have all approached the Delaware lawmaker in recent days, and National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Pete Sessions (Texas) said he's doing everything in his power to keep his "very close friend" Castle in the House.
"The chairman of the NRCC sits on" the Steering Committee, Sessions pointed out, suggesting he would use his influence to try to get Castle the Education ranking slot. What Sessions would not say, but Republicans acknowledge privately, is that if Castle leaves the House, his seat almost certainly goes to Democrats.
But Senate Republicans see the same dynamic for Biden's old seat, so they're working just as hard or harder to persuade Castle to make that race.
Castle says "governors and Senators" have been calling to urge him to run for Senate. He won't say which, but Sens. John McCain (Ariz.) and John Cornyn (Texas), chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, have previously been reported as Castle suitors.
Biden's son Beau Biden, the current Delaware attorney general, has been widely seen as the heir apparent to his father's old seat. It's not a sure thing that Biden will run in 2010. But regardless of whether Biden gets in, evidence suggests Republicans have a shot at the seat if Castle runs, and almost no shot if he doesn't.
"Unfortunately it's hard for Republicans to win in Delaware," Castle admitted, meaning that whichever seat he doesn't run for is likely to be filled by a Democrat come 2011.
But even with House and Senate Republicans competing for his services, retirement remains a real possibility. "I'm also not sure how long I want to do this," said Castle, who has held some form of public office for roughly 40 years.
The one thing the self-deprecating Castle does know for sure is that he can't mull the decision forever.
"At some point this just has to stop," he said.
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