Rep. Michael Castle (R)
Delaware, the first state to ratify the Constitution, the second smallest state in area, and the sixth smallest in population, is a small corner of America but with some considerable claims on U.S. history. The mouth of the Delaware River was explored by Henry Hudson, and the Dutch and Swedes built settlements on the west bank in the 1630s. But the three counties of Delaware owe their separate existence to the politics of the proprietors of William Penn’s colony of Pennsylvania, and to Delawareans’ own speed in ratifying the Constitution, which made it literally the “First State.”
Throughout most of its history, Delaware has been unusually affluent. It had the nation’s highest income levels during the early 20th century and still has relatively high income levels. The many members of the du Pont clan occupy beautiful cobblestone mansions in its chateau country. Delaware’s racial and ethnic mix is not radically different from the rest of the nation’s; it is home to more African-Americans (20%) and fewer Hispanics (6%). It has a mixture of suburbs, old immigrant neighborhoods, urban black neighborhoods, attractive beach towns, and farmlands. Sussex County in southern Delaware is a world of its own. It produces more chickens than any other county in the country—chickens outnumber people 300-to-1 in Delaware—and also thousands of tons of processed chicken dung (or “broiler litter”). Its beach communities are bustling with growth, and there is a move toward historic preservation in the old, inland towns.
For much of the last two centuries, the central focus of Delaware’s economy was the business started by Eleuthère Irénée du Pont, the practical-minded son of a dreamy, idealistic French immigrant. He built a gunpowder mill on the banks of Brandywine Creek in 1802, which was the first enterprise of the du Pont family. Over time, it became one of America’s great munitions and chemical companies. It switched from gunpowder to dynamite in the 1880s, and the company grew especially rapidly during World War I, generating so much capital that it bought a large share of General Motors stock in the 1920s and controlled GM for 30 years, when GM was the country’s largest corporation. DuPont capital also financed what was arguably the world’s finest research and development program. In the years on either side of World War II, DuPont prospered by bringing to the consumer and industrial markets new synthetics and plastics such as rayon, nylon, synthetic dyes, cellophane, Lucite, Teflon, and Dacron: “Better Living Through Chemistry.”
Business trends in Delaware have had a big impact on national policy. In the late 19th century, the state passed pioneering laws of incorporation, giving more flexibility and power to managers and owners. Most companies in the Fortune 500 and on the New York Stock Exchange and the Nasdaq are incorporated in Delaware. Their legal births take place in a federal-style building near the Capitol in Dover, which means that much of the nation’s corporate law, especially on mergers and acquisitions, is made in Delaware’s Chancery Court. Delaware takes care in choosing judges and writing corporate law to produce a reliable legal environment. Recently, the Chancery Court’s jurisdiction has been extended to intellectual property, and the Wilmington bar has been boning up on corporate bankruptcy law. In the quarter-century boom starting in the early 1980s, Delaware fostered a new industry: credit cards. In 1981, Gov. Pete du Pont pushed through a law abolishing Delaware’s usury laws and lowering its bank franchise tax. Inflation was high, and banks were looking for a state with no limit on interest rates to locate their credit card operations. Although South Dakota abolished its usury law in 1980, the state didn’t have a labor force large enough to support many banks. Delaware did. MBNA moved there from Maryland in 1982 and invented the affinity card in 1983. It became the nation’s largest credit card issuer; its chief executive officer, Charles Cawley, replaced the du Pont family as Delaware’s most visible philanthropist and community leader. Cawley retired in 2003, and Bank of America acquired MBNA in 2005. The 2007 financial crisis hit the credit card business hard, helping to send Delaware into recession, and the troubles in the domestic auto industry reverberated in the state as well. More than 1,000 people lost their jobs when Chrysler closed its Dodge manufacturing plant in Newark at the end of 2008, and another 550 were laid off when General Motors shuttered its Wilmington plant in 2009. Still, DuPont is keeping the state on the cutting edge by developing alternative fuels, and life sciences businesses are growing. AstraZeneca has its U.S. headquarters in Delaware. The state’s economy may surge again from the rise of an industry as little anticipated now as the credit card business was in 1980.
One way Delaware thrives is by “exporting taxes.” Journalist Jonathan Chait, irritated at the $2 tolls and the traffic jams at the tollbooths on the Delaware Turnpike, wrote in the New Republic: “The organizing principle of Delaware government is to subsidize its people at the rest of the country’s expense.” State government gets 3% of its operating budget from the turnpike tolls, 22% from corporate and franchise taxes, and 8% from slot machines. A 1993 U.S. Supreme Court decision sanctioned Delaware’s tax on unclaimed property from other states. Exporting taxes has allowed Delaware to be one of the five states with no sales tax (Maryland’s tax is 6%). And it has lowered its income tax several times in recent years, first under du Pont, then under Republican Gov. Michael Castle and Democratic Gov. Thomas Carper. Property taxes are low, with no reassessments since 1974 in Sussex County, since 1983 in New Castle County, and since 1987 in Kent County. The Census Bureau reports that Delaware’s state government has the fifth-highest revenue per capita of any state, and the Tax Foundation found that Delaware has the fourth-lowest tax burden on its residents. Delaware boosters can argue that its state policies have enabled America’s industrial economy to grow robustly, have provided credit to millions of people and businesses, and have led the nation in a virtuous cycle of lowering taxes. Certainly Delaware has done well. Its population grew 18% in the 1990s, and another 12% from 2000 to 2008—faster than any other state in the East or Midwest.
Delaware is on both sides of the Mason-Dixon line. It was a slave state with many emancipation sympathizers. On his Wilmington stop during his train ride to Washington in January 2009, President-elect Obama, joined by Vice President-elect Biden, paid tribute to Delaware’s Underground Railroad. They did not mention that Abraham Lincoln, during his 1861 train ride to Washington, decided not to risk a stop in slaveholding Delaware. Delaware also has immigrant communities in the Wilmington area, and it has Southern-accented farmers in Kent and Sussex counties (plus Latino migrants working in its chicken plants). Its New Castle County suburbs range from very affluent to not-so-affluent. Well-preserved 18th-century buildings line the streets of New Castle, the capital from 1704 to 1777. Newark has grown from a country crossroads to a small city as the University of Delaware has expanded.
From the 1950s through the 1980s, the state’s considerable variety produced a robust two-party politics in which tiny Delaware’s vote mirrored that of the nation’s. But in the 1990s, Delaware, like many of America’s largest metro areas, trended toward the Democrats. Now it is virtually a one-party state. Democrats hold both U.S. Senate seats: Thomas Carper won his by beating incumbent Republican William Roth in 2000, and Edward Kaufman, a longtime Biden aide, was appointed to Biden’s seat in January 2009. After 16 years of Democratic governors, Delaware elected another one. Treasurer Jack Markell won 68%-32%, after he defeated Lt. Gov. John Carney in the September primary. Democrats increased their lead in the state Senate to 16-5, while the state House, formerly 22-19 Republican, is now 24-17 Democratic. The major exception to Democratic rule is Republican Rep. Michael Castle, who was elected to the state’s lone House seat in 1992 after two terms as governor. He was re-elected 61%-38% in 2008. Delaware’s big race in 2010 will be for the remaining four years of Biden’s Senate term. A likely candidate is his son, Beau Biden, the state attorney general who as a member of the Delaware National Guard served in Iraq in 2008. The biggest question mark at press time in July 2009 was whether Castle would seek the seat.
Delaware elections are not bitter contests. Thanks to the state’s small size, politics remain intimate. Personal campaigning is important, and voters are not at all surprised to run into their senators in the supermarket. Successful Delaware politicians are almost always nice people; they couldn’t get elected otherwise. Then there is Delaware’s unique custom, dating back to 1792, of “Return Day.” On the Thursday after an election, winning and losing candidates go to the Sussex County seat of Georgetown and ride together in carriages to receive the bipartisan cheers of the voters and, literally, bury a hatchet in a box of Lewes Beach sand. Not a bad example for the other 49 states.
2008 Presidential Vote
2008 Democratic Presidential Primary
2008 Republican Presidential Primary
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
Delaware has been competitive in most presidential elections since the Federalists were battling the Jeffersonians. Until 2000, it could claim to be a presidential bellwether: It had voted for every winner from 1952 to 1996, the longest winning streak of any state. But starting in 2000, this affluent state has been voting significantly more Democratic than the national average. The New Castle County suburbs, like other affluent parts of major metropolitan areas, tilted toward the Democrats and away from the Republicans on cultural issues. Most Delaware voters still see plenty of ads, because in the past three elections all candidates have targeted Pennsylvania and most of the state is in the Philadelphia media market. But it seldom sees presidential or vice presidential candidates, except for Biden, whom voters saw often during his 36 years in the Senate.
In 2004, Delaware scheduled its primary one week after New Hampshire’s, on February 3, but it was only one of several states voting that day. Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, endorsed by Carper, Carney, and Markell, paid several trips to Delaware. Other candidates were scarcer. Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts won the primary with 50% of the vote; Lieberman ran second with 11%, in what amounted to a tie with John Edwards, Howard Dean, and Wesley Clark.
In 2008, Delaware held its primary on February 5, Super Tuesday. Interest was higher, at least on the Democratic side, as Democratic Party registration surged while Republican registration sagged. Little campaigning occurred until after the Iowa caucuses, and Biden had already withdrawn from the race. On January 31, Michelle Obama appeared at a theater in Wilmington and drew a crowd of 2,600. Encouraged, the Obama campaign scheduled a February rally in Rodney Square, and 10,000 thronged to see the candidate himself. Barack Obama was endorsed by gubernatorial primary rivals Markell and Carney. Hillary Rodham Clinton was endorsed by outgoing Gov. Ruth Ann Minner. The Clinton campaign scheduled a Chelsea Clinton appearance for February 4, but that was not enough. Obama carried the state 53%-42%, winning by a big margin in both black neighborhoods and affluent suburbs in New Castle County. Clinton carried Southern-accented Sussex County.
Some 96,000 Delawareans voted in the Democratic primary, and only 50,000 in the GOP primary. The Republican candidates did little campaigning here. John McCain, endorsed by Castle, won with 45% of the vote, to 33% for Mitt Romney and 15% for Mike Huckabee.
In recent general elections, Democrats Al Gore and John Kerry carried Delaware by decisive margins, 55%-42% and 53%-46%, respectively, in 2000 and 2004. In 2008, with Biden on the ticket—the first Delawarean on a national ticket—Obama carried the state 62%-37%. Regional patterns did emerge in the voting. Obama carried New Castle County—once marginal political ground—by an astonishing 70%-29%, much better than in demographically similar areas in southeast Pennsylvania or southern New Jersey. But Obama carried Kent County by only 54%-45%, and he lost Sussex County by 45%-54%.
Rep. Michael Castle (R)
Elected: 1992, 9th term.
Born: July 2, 1939, Wilmington .
Education: Hamilton Col., B.A. 1961, Georgetown U., LL.B. 1964.
Family: Married (Jane).
Elected office: DE House of Reps., 1966–68; DE Senate, 1968–76, Minority ldr., 1975–76; DE lt. gov., 1980–84; DE gov., 1984–92.
Professional Career: Practicing atty., 1964-80; DE dep. atty. gen., 1965–66.
Michael Castle, a Republican first elected in 1992, is Delaware’s representative-at-large. A direct descendant of Benjamin Franklin, Castle grew up in Delaware, the son of a DuPont patent lawyer. He graduated from Hamilton College and the law school at Georgetown University, and returned to Delaware, where he became a deputy attorney general. In 1966, at age 27, Castle ran for a Democratically held seat in the state House at the urging of local Republicans; he won. Two years later, he was elected to the state Senate and in time became minority leader. He left the Legislature in 1976 to practice law in Wilmington; he still lives there, in the same house, and commutes to Washington. In 1980, Republican Gov. Pierre (Pete) du Pont asked him to run for lieutenant governor, which he did and won. He was elected governor in 1984 and 1988. Barred from running for re-election by term limits, he pursued Delaware’s lone seat in the U.S. House. Castle defeated state Treasurer Janet Rzewnicki, 56%-30%, in the Republican primary and went on to win the general election, 55%-43%, over Democratic Lt. Gov. S.B. Woo.
|Michael Castle (R)||235,437||(61%)||($1,808,076)|
|Karen Hartley-Nagle (D)||146,434||(38%)||($27,788)|
|Michael Castle (R)||Unopposed|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2006 (57%), 2004 (69%), 2002 (72%), 2000 (68%), 1998 (66%), 1996 (70%), 1994 (71%), 1992 (55%)
Castle arrived just a couple of years before the Republican takeover of Congress in 1995 and became a pivotal moderate deal-broker when the new majority pushed a broad, conservative agenda through the House. He was one of 10 Republicans to support Clinton administration positions on most issues, forging compromises on gun control, tax cuts, and education spending. With a voting record at the middle of the House, he has been a leader of the informal Tuesday Group, which meets weekly for lunch, and is a co-founder of the Republican Main Street Partnership. In early 2007, after the GOP had lost its majority, he was one of just three Republicans who voted for all six bills in the Democrats’ “first-100-hours” agenda. He backed the 2001 Bush tax cuts with some ambivalence, fearing that they would return the government to chronic deficit spending. He initially opposed the 2003 tax cut but voted for it when it was reduced to $350 billion, with $20 billion in aid to the states.
In 2005, when the conservative Republican leadership pressed for a budget with spending cuts, Castle and the Main Street group resisted, demanding the removal of a provision allowing oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The leadership complied, and Castle provided a key vote when the spending plan passed 217-215. In subsequent budgets written by conservatives, Castle and his group held out for fewer cuts in education and health care programs, winning some battles and losing others. When Democrats voted as a bloc to try to stop GOP proposals, Castle and his band of Republican moderates gained leverage with conservative leaders who needed their votes. After Republicans lost their majority in 2007, he found it harder to put his imprint on legislation, especially after several fellow moderates retired or were defeated for re-election.
For six years, Castle chaired the Education Reform Subcommittee, and although he supported spending more on education than other Republicans, he also questioned the worth of programs originally fashioned by Democrats. That was evident in his work on Head Start in 2003. Castle’s bill maintained the core program; but citing studies showing that the progress Head Start children make tends to be lost by the third or fourth grade, he added provisions requiring more-rigorous academics and also one allowing eight states to adapt their own programs. Democrats raised a storm of criticism, contending that Castle and the Republicans were gutting a successful program for inner-city children. His bill barely passed the House, 217-216, and died in the Senate. In 2007, Castle worked with then-subcommittee Chairman Dale Kildee, a Michigan Democrat, to pass a Head Start bill that increased spending from $6.9 billion to $7.4 billion and toughened qualification requirements for teachers. Castle has remained a supporter of the Bush-era bill called No Child Left Behind, which requires schools to improve test scores to keep their federal funding. Democrats want to rewrite the law, and Castle is positioned to be a player in those discussions in the 111th Congress (2009-10).
While Republicans still held the majority, Castle considered making a bid for chairman of the full Education and the Workforce Committee. But he had not been a leadership loyalist and had not raised much money for other Republicans—two major strikes against him. In February 2006, when Chairman John Boehner of Ohio was elected GOP majority leader and the chairmanship came open, Castle announced he would not seek it. “The bottom line is, I wouldn’t make it,” he said. “Let’s face it, once you become the head of a committee, you have to totally support the leadership on everything. And that’s never been one of my interests.… I’d give up my independence if I were a committee chairman. I’d have to worry about committee business instead of what I consider the important issues.” But he maintained good relations with the new chairman, California Republican Buck McKeon.
Castle continued to enjoy his independence from the leadership. He opposed President Bush’s call for a “surge” of troops in Iraq in 2007. And he was a leader in the explosive debate over expanding federal funding for embryonic-stem-cell research, which Bush, many conservatives, and anti-abortion activists opposed. He argued that the embryos, which are created for fertility treatments but then discarded when there are too many, should be available if donors consent. “There is more potential here than anything that has ever happened in the history of medicine,” he said. In 2005, Castle threatened to vote against the Republicans’ budget unless he got a vote on a bipartisan bill to expand embryonic-stem-cell funding. The leadership acceded and it passed, 238-194. But the tally was not sufficient to override Bush’s veto, the first of his presidency. In January 2007, Democrats brought the bill to the floor as part of their new agenda and it passed, 253-174, still less than the two-thirds required to override a veto. Also that year, Castle, with other moderate Republicans, unsuccessfully sought middle ground to expand the State Children’s Health Insurance Program.
Castle serves on the Financial Services Committee, which is of great importance to Delaware. He has supported measures to prevent identity theft and to promote low-income housing programs. In 2008, he opposed passage of a bill by Democratic Rep. Carolyn Maloney of New York to crack down on credit card issuers—a major business in Delaware. During the financial crisis on Wall Street that year, he joined with committee Democrats on a bill to remove legal liability from loan servicers who readjust at-risk mortgages. His pet project on the committee is coins. Castle sponsored the 1997 law establishing commemorative quarters, with different designs for each state. The state quarters have become collector’s items and have brought the government a cool $6 billion, the most successful coin program in the nation’s history.
He is a strong supporter of Amtrak train service and opposed Bush administration proposals to divide the operation into three units and to spin off control of rails, stations, and infrastructure to the states. In 2008, he said that high-speed rail service could reduce the trip between Washington and New York to two hours, including a stop in Wilmington.
Castle has been re-elected every two years, usually with 65% of the vote or better. He has often been mentioned as a candidate for the Senate. In September 2006, Castle suffered a minor stroke and was off the campaign trail for four weeks. That year, Democrats came on strong against a politically weakened Republican Party, and Castle faced a tough challenge from Democrat Dennis Spivack. After outspending Spivack by $1.1 million to $387,000, Castle won, but by the sharply reduced tally of 57%-39%. In 2008, House Democrats could not find a top-tier challenger. Democrats won the three other statewide contests with at least 62% of the vote, but Castle was re-elected 61%-38%.
He announced on October 6, 2009 that he will run for the Senate next year for the seat vacated by Vice President Joe Biden. Appointed Sen. Ted Kaufman, a Democrat serving in the interim, has said that he will not be a candidate in November 2010. The winner will serve out the remaining four years of Biden’s term.
Castle’s decision sets up a likely 2010 contest against state Attorney General Beau Biden, the vice president’s son and a National Guard veteran of the Iraq war. It is sure to be one of the most watched contests in the country next year. Democratically leaning Delaware is a challenge for the Republicans, but they now feel they have a shot at the seat with a top-seed candidate like Castle. He has won several statewide contests in his career, and he has not lost an election since running successfully for the Delaware House in 1966. His expected departure also sparked a lively contest for his congressional seat. Several prominent state politicians are considering the race, and former Democratic Lt. Gov. John Carney is already a candidate.