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In Delaware, civility rules

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David Broder
July 29, 2010
— A lot of the mail I receive these days reads like this letter from a Milford, Utah, man, who says: “Truly, there is a lot of anger in the land, and one other thing that columnists like you appear to have missed or perhaps are ignoring. That thing is disgust with the obvious, deliberate refusal by elected officials to do their duty and actually represent the will of the people.”

If that is your feeling, too, come with me to Delaware, where I spent the weekend with two Senate candidates who will restore your faith in representative government.


The seat that Joe Biden held for 36 years will be filled in November, and the early favorite is Mike Castle, the state’s former governor and longtime congressman at-large, a throwback to the kind of progressive Republican the Northeast used to elect regularly.


Respected in both parties, especially for his work on education and job training, successful all 12 times he has been on the ballot here, Castle could easily have held the House seat as long as he wished. But at 70, he chose to seek to fill out the four years remaining in Biden’s term, even though Castle thought he would face a much more difficult race against Biden’s son, state Attorney General Beau Biden.


His reason for running, Castle explained to voters at a house party here, is that “I’m in the minority in a (Republican) minority of 435 people, and the rules and procedures make it difficult to express my independence. In the Senate, I hope I will have more impact.”


Later, Castle told me, “I don’t go there with any notion of just building up seniority, but I think I can make a contribution there in the fields I’ve worked in. I don’t plan to be part of the opposition. I think I can do more than oppose.”


In his forthcoming book, “Joe Biden: A Life of Trial and Redemption,” veteran Washington correspondent Jules Witcover quotes Biden’s sister, Valerie, his frequent campaign manager, as observing, “There’s a culture of civility” in Delaware politics. “And it’s a small state where you can get around quickly.”


I found Castle and his wife chatting with two-dozen voters in a home here, laying out his differences with the Obama administration on health care and economic stimulus, just one day after he had joined Democratic Sen. Tom Carper, another former governor and fellow-moderate, in a bipartisan welcome to Education Secretary Arne Duncan at the State Fair.


It obviously would not be easy to challenge Castle, and the Democrats were shocked when young Biden took himself out of the Senate race earlier this year, explaining that he could not in good conscience absent himself from the challenge of prosecuting a man accused of the worst crime in recent state history.


But Democrats quickly found a worthy match for Castle in 46-year-old Chris Coons, the reform-minded elected executive of New Castle County, where two-thirds of the state’s population lives. A man of conspicuously wide-ranging interests, Coons was a double major in chemistry and political science at Amherst and later won an ethics degree from Yale Divinity at the same time he was attending Yale Law School.


Professionally, he mixed working at the family-owned firm that makes GORE-TEX fabrics with his service for several nonprofits, all before he was recruited by the Democrats to run against an ethically-challenged county executive.


The two men speak respectfully of each other, and while Castle has the edge in name familiarity and financing, Coons points out that Delaware has moved further into the Democratic column while Castle has been in office.


I can think of many states, including my own native Illinois, that would kill to have two such Senate candidates this year. To cure your cynicism, just visit Delaware.


———


Daniel Schorr, the great broadcaster who died last week, was a model to his trade—and an inspiration to many of us in journalism. He never raised his voice, but he knew how to make his points. His curiosity kept him working at the top of his game well into his 90s. What a good life.


David Broder is a columnist for The Washington Post. Readers may write to him via e-mail at davidbroder@washpost.com.

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