By Alexander Bolton - 01/10/10 09:22 PM EST
Democrats ousted Delaware’s popular longtime Republican Sen. William Roth, Jr. in 2000 after his age became an issue in the race but they are leery about playing the age card against GOP challenger Rep. Mike Castle (Del.).
There is evidence that Democratic strategists believe Castle’s age, 70, could hurt him down the stretch. If he won election, he would enter the Senate, where accrued seniority determines influence, as a 71-year-old.
Age itself is not a barrier to serving effectively in the Senate — the upper chamber has been called the world’s most elite retirement home, but many of the oldest senators have built up years of seniority and power.
Republicans have responded sharply to questions about Castle’s age and Democrats are reluctant to press an issue that could offend seniors, a crucial electoral block.
Instead, Democrats — at least publicly — are making the chief issue of the campaign Castle’s voting record and what they describe as a sharp turn to the right since he announced his Senate candidacy on Oct. 6.
Democrats expect Attorney General Beau Biden, son of Vice President Joe Biden, to run for his father’s old Senate seat.
“Age is just not going to be the frame of the race,” said an aide with the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. “The frame will be: ‘I voted for Mike Castle and Mike Castle’s not voting for me.’”
Republicans have warned Democrats against targeting Castle’s age.
“It sounds like Democrats in Washington are increasingly desperate to distract donors from the fact that they do not have a candidate,” said Brian Walsh, spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee. “If Democrats plan to make age an issue in this Senate campaign, we certainly look forward to Democrat Arlen Specter’s thoughts on that considering both races will share a media market.”
Sen. Specter, who will turn 80 years old next month, is running for re-election as a Democrat in Pennsylvania. Specter has served nearly 30 years in the upper chamber but his seniority is in question because he left the Republican Party last year. The Philadelphia media market covers much of Delaware.
One Democratic donor told The Hill that DSCC officials have informed allies on K Street that they view Castle as less of a threat than GOP challengers in other states because of his age.
But a spokesman for the DSCC vigorously denied that claim.
Publicly, Democratic strategists prefer to focus on Castle’s voting record, which they say has taken a decidedly conservative turn since he announced his Senate bid.
A survey of House roll call votes since Oct. 6 show that Castle has voted with the Republican leadership 87 percent of the time.
A Republican close to Castle, however, noted that many of these votes were on procedural issues — not substantive legislation — on which GOP leaders expect party loyalty.
Even so, Democratic strategists argue that Castle has voted with conservatives against major bills that would benefit Delaware.
They note Castle voted against a $154 billion jobs package the House passed in December, which included $75 billion for job creation and $79 billion to extend unemployment benefits and health insurance assistance.
Castle also voted for an amendment to the healthcare reform bill that would restrict access to insurance plans covering abortions for women who receive federal subsidies.
Also in December, Castle voted against a financial regulatory reform that would overhaul rules for the financial industry.
Castle said he opposed the bill because it did not rule out the possibility of spending billions of dollars of federal money in the future on Wall Street bailouts.
"Although I have voted for several provisions set forth in this bill -- including greater scrutiny of the hedge fund industry, reforming our credit rating agencies, cracking down on predatory lending, auditing of the Federal Reserve, and enacting greater transparency of the financial marketplace -- this bill falls short of ensuring taxpayers that they will not be called upon yet again to bail out financial institutions," Castle said in a statement.
Walsh, spokesman for the NRSC, defended Castle’s voting record.
“Mike Castle’s record is consistently independent and has always reflected the priorities of Delaware which is why he’s consistently won statewide elections,” said Walsh.
Castle, Delaware’s only representative in the House, is serving his 9th term.