- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 8, 2009

It’s a waiting game these days in Delaware.

More than two months after Republican Rep. Michael N. Castle announced he will run for Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s former Senate seat, state Attorney General Beau Biden has not said whether he will be a candidate for the remaining four years of his father’s term.

Few harbor any doubts the 40-year-old Mr. Biden will run for the open seat. However, the delay in announcing his political intentions, a recent poll showing him trailing Mr. Castle by six percentage points, and a top election analyst’s advice that he should pass up the 2010 special election in what could be a difficult year for Democrats have all raised speculation about why he is taking so long to reveal his plans.

The chance of a Republican pickup and the prospect of a second-generation Biden in the Senate have made the Delaware Senate race unexpectedly one of the more closely watched early contests in the 2010 midterm cycle.

“There’s been a lot of talk in recent days about Democrats retiring and dropping out of certain races, but if Biden opts not to run, that might be the biggest sign of trouble ahead for Democrats,” Aaron Blake wrote in the Hill newspaper last week.

“Should we be reading more into Biden’s reticence?” asked the National Journal’s Hotline.

Mr. Biden has been spending time with his family after returning home earlier in the fall from a tour of duty with the Delaware National Guard in Iraq. He has been giving the same terse response to repeated inquiries about the Senate race: “There will be time to make a decision.”

Veteran election watchers say he can afford to take all the time he wants.

“There probably isn’t much of a need for Biden to establish his campaign early, since he doesn’t need to build name recognition and certainly won’t encounter any trouble raising money,” said Jennifer Duffy, senior elections analyst at the Cook Political Report.

He also is assured of having the full support of the White House; seasoned political advice from his father, who won the seat seven times; and timely campaign appearances by President Obama.

“But, on the very unlikely chance that Biden doesn’t run, it would probably be timing. He was in Iraq for a year and has a young family. It just might not be the right time for him personally,” Ms. Duffy said.

Indeed, her boss, Charlie Cook, in a briefing last week with reporters, said Mr. Biden should wait for a more opportune time to run for the Senate. “Why does he want to run the risk of running against somebody who’s got experience all over him in a Republican year? Why does he want to do this?” Mr. Cook asked rhetorically.

As things stand now, the Senate race is viewed as a pure tossup by most handicappers, though longtime political analyst Stuart Rothenberg put the race in his “lean takeover” column for the Republicans last month. “Given the probability that the broad political environment will favor the GOP, Castle has a very slight edge,” he said.

Democratic Sen. Ted Kaufman, a longtime aide to the senior Mr. Biden, was appointed to the seat in January when his old boss moved over to the White House. Mr. Kaufman pledged at the time not to run in the race to fill out the term.

Mr. Castle, a 70-year-old former governor and moderate who has been elected statewide for more than a quarter of a century, is one of the state’s most popular political leaders, drawing support from Democrats and independents alike. As the state’s sole House member, he won re-election to a ninth term last year with 61 percent of the vote. A voter survey released last week by Public Policy Polling, a Democratic survey firm, showed him leading Mr. Biden by 45 percent to 39 percent.

However, an earlier survey by Susquehanna Polling & Research, a Republican polling firm, had Mr. Biden leading by 45 percent to 40 percent. But Mr. Castle has maintained the edge in the past several polls, and the latest PPP poll found he has better favorable/unfavorable scores than his younger rival — 55 percent to 28 percent for Mr. Castle versus 43 percent to 35 percent for Mr. Biden.

Moreover, Mr. Castle has a 52 percent to 23 percent lead among independent voters and attracts 20 percent support from Democrats. The PPP poll said nearly one-fifth of Delaware voters who voted for Mr. Obama said they would support Mr. Castle, who has served in the state legislature, the statehouse and in Congress for Delaware for more than 30 years.

Notably, the PPP poll also showed that Mr. Castle’s opposition to the Democrats’ House health care bill apparently has not damaged his chances. All but one member of the House Republican caucus voted against the measure a month ago.

“There had been some speculation about whether Castle’s vote against the health care bill in the House last month would hurt his prospects, but 46 percent of voters say they’re opposed to the plan with only 43 percent in support, an indication that Castle may have actually been on the right side of public opinion on that particular issue,” a PPP analysis says.

Meantime, Democratic Party officials say that despite Mr. Biden’s seeming reticence to jump into the race before now, they continue to believe he will run.

“We fully hope and expect Beau to run for the Senate, and we are prepared to commit the necessary resources to keep this seat. Considering his recent service in Iraq, we understand and appreciate the time he is spending with his family as he makes this determination,” said Eric Schultz, communications director for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

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