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.