About an hour before the Democratic firm Public Policy Polling released a new poll Sunday night showing moderate congressman Mike Castle trailing conservative activist Christine O'Donnell, 44 percent to 47 percent, in the Delaware GOP Senate primary, Castle predicted, in a most understated way, that he would win on Tuesday.
"I feel good about it. It’s, you know, worrisome obviously, but I feel positive. The polls are good,” Castle told me in a phone interview. "It won’t be an overwhelming victory, but I would imagine we will win by some comfortable margin."
Castle is relying on goodwill that he believes he's built up with Republican voters over the years as lieutenant governor, then governor, and (since 1993) the state's lone congressman. But in a year when a number of conservative insurgents have defeated more moderate, establishment-oriented GOP Senate candidates, that goodwill might not be enough. While the more moderate candidates who have won tacked right in their primaries, Castle has essentially chosen to say to conservatives that he is who he is--a moderate who will sometimes vote with them, sometimes against them--and they can take him or leave him. According to the PPP poll, they may just leave him: 55 percent of Delaware Republicans who were polled said he's too liberal.
But in our interview Sunday night, Castle pointed out that there are important areas where he agrees with conservatives, such as repealing Obamacare and making the Bush tax cuts permanent.
“I did not vote for any of the health care legislation," Castle said. "I had a vote in committee: voted no. I had a vote in the House: voted no. And I had a vote on the final version, and again voted no.”
“So, I have signed on to the Herger legislation which will substitute the Republican bill for the Obama bill in health care,” Castle continued. Mike Pence, a conservative stalwart from Indiana, is among the bill’s cosponsors.
But what if Republicans were to bring up a bill to simply repeal Obamacare, without attaching it to replacement legislation?
"The whole idea of that even coming up [in the next Congress], I think, is beyond reality at this point, unless, obviously, Republicans take over the House and the Senate," said Castle. "I would look at it. I would consider it. On the other hand, I would also consider trying to improve what was passed in order to provide better health care to people. So I'm not saying absolutely no to anything at this point. The only thing I'm sure of is, I'd replace the Obama bill with the Republican bill."
“The question [of repeal], I think, is probably going to become important in the next election," Castle continued. "You may have a new president and perhaps you can have a run at 60 seats in the Senate. But I just don’t think it’s pertinent for the next two years, frankly.”
On extending all of the Bush tax cuts, Castle said: “I would like to see them made permanent.... I'm not a great fan of temporary tax cuts, period. I’ve talked to a lot of businesses and there's a lot of planning and a lot of decision making that’s delayed when you dont’ have a fixed plan in terms of tax policy." Raising taxes, he said, would have a “detrimental effect on businesses and the economy and jobs.”
Yet, Castle remained unapologetic about his support for cap-and-trade, unlike other moderate Republicans, such as Mark Kirk in Illinois and Scott Brown in Massachusetts, who ran from cap-and-trade when they ran for Senate. "Do I regret supporting it originally? Politically, it would have been easier not to, but ultimately if we get to the point where we are actually improving our environment and do the things we need to do, I don’t necessarily think it was a wasted vote."
But, Castle argued, cap-and-trade is almost certainly dead in this Congress and the next: “My assessement is that [cap-and-trade] legislation is not going to come up. I don't think anything that one could characterize as cap-and-trade or cap-and-tax or anything like that will come up. I think there may be some incentives for alternative sources or something like that, but not anything similar to cap-and-trade.”
Castle also pledged that he would not vote for cap-and-trade in a lame-duck session. “I just do not like lame-duck type sessions,” he said.
Castle, who says he's pro-choice on abortion during the first 12 weeks of gestation, said he "absolutely" still supports federal funding for embryonic stem-cell research. But he opposes partial-birth abortion and taxpayer funding of abortion. Of course, one of the most important issues for abortion opponents (and other conservatives) is the Supreme Court. In 2006, both of Delaware's Democratic senators voted against confirming Samuel Alito (as did just one Republican, Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island).
Although moderate Republicans like Kirk and Brown said on the campaign trail they would have voted to confirm Alito had they been in the Senate, Castle would only strongly hint that he would have done so:
It’s hard for me to give you a complete answer to that because I haven’t studied it that carefully. But, having said that, what I’ve read about Alito--I haven’t read his decisions--but what I know about him is that he’s a very competent judge and he’s very well-reasoned in his legal rationale. I would be inclined to be supportive of him, just based on what I know at this point. Sitting in the House, I haven’t sat down and studied him and made a decision on whether I’ll vote yes or no.
And Castle said of Obama's most recent Supreme Court nominee, Elena Kagan:
I’ve studied her even less than I did Alito, and you know, I have no great thoughts on that. I mean, she appears on the face of it to be qualified from a legal point of view, I did think she is ideologically a little bit more to the left perhaps than you would want a judge to be. You would want a judge to be in the middle if you can. That worries me a little bit.
Castle could probably be more conservative than he is and still get elected. But he is who he is. And he can win. And he would vote with conservatives more often than liberal Democrat Chris Coons would.
Will that be enough for Delaware Republicans? Or will they prefer Christine O'Donnell, who is ideologically pure but has trouble telling the truth, and will almost certainly lose the general election according to the polls?