A key reason Democrats did so well in the Senate this year was that they did not have to defend a single open seat; Republicans, on the other hand, had to defend five - of which they lost three.
Unfortunately for Democrats, they will not be able to enjoy the same comfort in 2010, as we now know that the special election to fill the reminder of Joe Biden’s term will be an open seat. (Republicans have an open seat of their own already, as Kansas Senator Sam Brownback will not run for a third term.)
Outgoing Governor Ruth Ann Minner announced today that she will appoint Ted Kaufman once Joe Biden resigns. Kaufman is a senior adviser for Biden and is currently working on the Vice-President-elect’s transition team, and Kaufman left no doubt that he was only a placeholder and explicitly stated that he had no plans to run for re-election in 2010. He added, “I do not think that Delaware’s appointed senator should spend the next two years running for office.”
This is a clear sign that the pick is designed to pave the way for Biden’s son Beau to run on his own in 2010. Beau, who is also the state’s Attorney General, could not be appointed now because he is serving a tour of active duty in Iraq. For him to have a chance to occupy his father’s seat, it was thus essential for Minner to choose a placeholder with no ambition to hold the seat beyond 2010, allowing Beau to jump in the race then.
Minner’s decision is a blow to outgoing Lieutenant Governor John Carney, who lost a very tight gubernatorial primary a few months ago to state Treasurer and now Governor-elect Jack Markell. Carney had expressed his interest in the seat. Carney would have been likely to run for re-election, however, which would have thwarted the Bidens’ plan to form a political dynasty. Carney could still jump in the 2010 race, of course, a move that would be sure to spark a highly competitive primary.
Republicans, meanwhile, have a weak bench in Delaware. They were unable to field a credible challenger in this year’s open gubernatorial race, after all, and it will be far more difficult for them to mount a strong race in a federal election. Delaware remains a Democratic state that voted for Obama by 25%. However, the GOP has one strong potential candidate: Rep. Mike Castle, who has been the state’s sole U.S. representative since 1992 and who served as the state’s governor for two terms before that.
Castle is popular (he won re-election with more than 60% in both 2006 and 2008 despite the blue wave) and would give any Democrat a run for his money. Depending on the political environment in 2010, it is very possible that an open seat race with a Castle candidacy could be one of the most competitive of the next midterms. But Castle might very well not run. He would be 71 years old in 2010, suffered minor strokes in hte past and is frequently mentioned as a possible retiree from the House. Would he now want to sign up for a difficult campaign for a six-year Senate term?
At the very least, a Castle candidacy would make Democrats favored to pick-up his House seat.