Up until a couple of months ago, the front-runner in the race to fill Vice President Joe Biden’s former Senate seat in Delaware was the at-large member of Congress from the state and former governor, Republican Mike Castle.
Castle’s political pedigree in the tiny Constitution State was close to impeccable: governor for eight years, lieutenant governor for four years, 18 years in the U.S. House of Representatives, and 10 years in the state Legislature. And Castle is popular, regularly winning statewide races by lopsided margins.
But in the low turnout GOP primary in September, Tea Party favorite Christine O’Donnell pulled off a shocking upset, dispatching the politically moderate Castle by just 3,000 votes.
In November’s general election, however, the tables were turned: after much publicity over O’Donnell’s colorful and outspoken past, including about her dabbling in witchcraft, she was buried by the Democrat, little-known county executive Chris Coons.
Today, a reflective Mike Castle says he agrees with those who believe that in Delaware and two other states, Nevada and Colorado, nominating a more conservative Tea Party candidate in the primary contributed to Republican Senate seat losses, and arguably the failure to win majority control. Castle compliments the Tea Party for “capturing the essence of what many Americans believe: the need to cut government scope and spending,” and he credits them with having a significant impact on the election, especially in the Republican primaries (close to half the new members of the House claim some Tea Party backing.) He agrees with the Tea Party view that the Obama administration “overspent and over-regulated” for its first two years.
And he predicts that “they’re not going any place, any time soon.” He even warned that “excellent Republican senators” such as Maine’s Olympia Snowe, as well as other Republican House members and governors, have to be concerned about a challenge in 2012.
But, he also has a warning for the Tea Party itself. Castle said he’s read that the movement is already looking for candidates sympathetic to their views to run in 2012. He said in many states that could backfire — suggesting that happened in Delaware this year. Castle said he believes with sufficient planning, a lot of Republicans — 70 percent of whom stayed home from this year’s primary — would turn out to vote for a more mainstream candidate.
Castle also clearly disagrees with the philosophy, expressed by South Carolina Republican Sen. Jim DeMint, that it’s better to have a minority of conservative Republicans in Congress, than to have a majority of Republicans, many of whom are “middle of the road.”
“Part of their concern was to take out people like me,” Castle said. “People who are not conservative enough.”
Does the Tea Party have the makings of a long-term political movement?
Castle doesn’t think so, because he believes most Americans want the two political parties to work together. “Long term, I believe there is a need for both parties to work out their differences and keep the country moving forward.”
Castle believes that House Republican leader John Boehner agrees with that point of view, but will face a balancing act as he confronts the high expectations of newly-elected Tea Party-backed representatives. Castle predicts Boehner will search for areas to work with the White House and with Democrats on issues “where spending is not as much of a factor.”
One final observation from Castle: he criticizes the growth of what he calls ideologically driven news media, especially on the right, with promoting extreme views and pressuring voters and candidates not to compromise. He describes conservative-leaning radio and television hosts who misrepresented or “were factually wrong” about his voting record. When Castle’s staff phoned them to ask for a correction, they were told that since the hosts are “commentators,” they are not responsible for fact-checking what they say.