Will he or won't he? Castle nears write-in deadline for Delaware Senate bid

Should longtime Rep. Mike Castle (R-Del.) decide to wage a write-in bid for Senate this fall against Christine O'Donnell (R) and Chris Coons (D), it sets up an intra-party fight that could prove even uglier than the one currently unfolding in Alaska.

But it would also likely add a fresh competitiveness to the Delaware race, where Coons currently holds a commanding lead.

On Wednesday, Castle told reporters that he was mulling a write-in bid in November after being upset in the state's GOP primary by Tea Party-backed Christine O'Donnell. The nine-term congressman suggested it was unlikely that he would pull the trigger on a bid, but did say he intends to consider it "right up until the final moment."

That means the speculation will continue through Sept. 30, which is the state's deadline to declare a write-in candidacy.

"Congressman Castle continues to hear from Delawareans who would like to see him on the general election ballot in November," said Castle spokeswoman Kate Dickens. "While he has said there is little chance that he would pursue it, the option is one he is considering over the next few days."

A write-in Senate bid wouldn't be new for Delaware: Christine O'Donnell actually waged one after she lost the GOP Senate nomination back in 2006, and had Castle edged her in the primary this year several observers are convinced she would have gone that route once again.

Back in '06, O'Donnell won just over 4 percent of the vote as a write-in, which amounted to a little more than 11,000 votes. It's likely one of the reasons the O'Donnell campaign has been silent on Castle's flirtation with a write-in bid to this point.

Like Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiHeitkamp ad highlights record as Senate race heats up Icebreaking ships are not America’s top priority in the Arctic 13 GOP senators ask administration to pause separation of immigrant families MORE (R-Alaska), who has become the scourge of many conservatives since declaring her write-in bid for Senate in Alaska, a Castle write-in would likely be met with much of the same from his Republican colleagues on the Hill.

Sen. John CornynJohn CornynSenate moving ahead with border bill, despite Trump GOP senators introduce bill to prevent family separations at border Senate GOP tries to defuse Trump border crisis MORE (R-Texas), who chairs the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said Thursday that he would not support a write-in bid by Castle. NRSC communications director Brian Walsh made clear Friday, "We're behind O'Donnell."

That could leave the 71-year-old congressman largely on his own if he decided to jump back into the race and likely put his own state Republican Party in a tough position, too.

The Delaware GOP and its Chairman Tom Ross served as leading attack dog against Christine O'Donnell over the past two months, even filing a federal election complaint against the O'Donnell campaign less than a week before the primary.

A GOP source said there has been "little contact" between the state Republican Party and the O'Donnell campaign since the primary and on Friday, the party's communications director, Tom Doheny, resigned to take a position with the Pennsylvania GOP. Doheny hit the send button daily on releases attacking O'Donnell in the two weeks before the GOP primary.

Like Murkowski in Alaska, those close to Castle say much of the decision-making process hinges on whether or not he comes to believe a write-in is actually winnable. And Castle has two simple but big things going for him when it comes to that: one, he enjoys widespread name recognition and popularity in the state among both Republicans and Democrats; two, his last name is pretty easy to spell.

Conservative critics are already arguing that a Castle write-in bid would pave a path to the Senate for Coons, but a more likely possibility is that a Castle entry into the race not only makes it more competitive, but could increase the chance of an O'Donnell win.

Unlike many other states where independents make up a solid bloc of the voting population, unaffiliated voters number just over 20 percent in Delaware and Democrats have a sizable edge in voter registration: 47 percent Democrat to 30 percent Republican.

Here's the argument as laid out by one Republican strategist Friday: A Castle write-in could potentially take more votes away from Coons than it would O'Donnell given the congressman's popularity among Democrats in the state. That sets up a scenario whereby the general election could be won with less than 40 percent of the vote, giving Castle not just an actual chance to win, but bringing an O'Donnell victory into the realm of possibility.

Currently, Coons enjoys a double-digit lead over O'Donnell and many Republican strategists have privately conceded (others publicly) that they don't think the race is winnable for O'Donnell.

Political numbers guru Nate Silver parsed out a similar scenario on his blog Friday. In modeling a three-way race, Silver envisioned Castle and Coons fighting for some 70 percent of the state's electorate and came up with a result that had Castle earning 34 percent of the vote, within three points of Coons.