Posted: Aug. 23, 2006


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

U.S. Sen. Thomas R. Carper could not have been more popular at a fund-raiser Tuesday evening, and the event was not even for him.

It was for Dennis Spivack, a fellow Democrat who is huffing and puffing as hard as he can in his uphill effort against U.S. Rep. Michael N. Castle, a seven-term Republican and ex-governor with an impeccable streak of 10 statewide victories, second only to Carper's 11.

Spivack was thrilled to have Carper stop by an otherwise small-scale gathering of about 25 people, hosted by Allison Taylor Levine, his communications director, at her home in New Castle with a sweeping view of the Delaware River.

Carper's presence connoted legitimacy. Never mind that he was scheduled the very next day for an amiable joint appearance with Castle to bestow a federal grant on the Middletown Senior Center.

Politics is nothing if not dissonance, and Delaware is probably better than Connecticut, where the Republican White House is cheering on U.S. Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, who lost a Democratic primary so he is running as an independent, and Carper is sticking with him even as other Democratic senators desert him, Delaware's own Joseph R. Biden Jr. among them.

"I want to say to Dennis, thank you for running. Having run against an incumbent a time or two, I know what it's like. Tom Edison used to say, sometimes people are afraid of opportunity because it comes dressed in overalls and looks a lot like work," Carper said -- without adding a single critical word about Castle.

Carper really made himself the man of the moment by bringing along a check for $5,000 for Spivack's campaign, Carper's second contribution of the same amount. The rest of the crowd combined probably added about $1,000 to Spivack's treasury.

Like most politicians, Carper was spending O.P.M. -- Other People's Money. The check came from his First State PAC, a kitty that he fills with thousands and thousands of dollars from other PACs, a lot of them from the banking industry, like a standout $10,000 contribution from the American Bankers Association.

Spivack needs the money. According to finance reports filed at the end of June, he had roughly $79,000 in his campaign account. Castle had $1.3 million.

People were so impressed to have Carper there that they nearly forgot to let Spivack speak. "This is what it's like to run as a forgotten candidate," Spivack joked.

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This election year is not supposed to be a good time to be a Republican. It is not supposed to be a good time to be an incumbent. Apparently nobody has told Mike Castle, though.

Castle is running for re-election as a proud Republican incumbent. He already has brought in some Washington types to campaign for him and fatten his treasury, notably U.S. Sens. John McCain and Chuck Hagel, each with an eye on the 2008 Republican presidential nomination, and next up is an insiders' insider.

U.S. Rep. John A. Boehner, the Republican majority leader from Ohio, will headline a fund-raiser for Castle on Saturday, Sept. 16, at the DuPont Country Club.

Actually, it is regarded as smart politics for Castle not to run away from what he is. Chris Matthews, the political commentator whose own insider credentials are right up there, explained in his book Hardball that candidates win when they turn their liabilities into assets -- the way Ronald Reagan did with his retort to a question about his age in a presidential debate against Walter Mondale, the former vice president.

Reagan quipped, "I will not make my age an issue in this campaign. I am not going to exploit for political purposes my opponent's youth and inexperience."

There is no word yet on whether Boehner intends to play a round at the country club before the fund-raiser. He has a reputation for having the best golf tan in the Congress.

# # #

As Joe Biden uses the summer as a test-run for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination, he has been prominent in the press.

He made the front page of the New York Times as Exhibit A of the Wal-Mart bashers criticizing the King Kong of retailers for paying puny wages. He was second on Roll Call's list of senators appearing most frequently on the Sunday talk shows, behind only U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter, the Pennsylvania Republican.

Biden recently was voted the most trusted Democrat on foreign policy by a panel of 67 Democratic insiders assembled by National Journal, ahead of Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. (John McCain was the Republican chosen by a Republican panel, which preferred him to President Bush and current Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.)

The Democrat panel praised Biden as someone who "is level-headed and avoids rhetoric," "gives honest, easy-to-understand explanations," and "has more [experience] than W. and Condi combined."

None of the Democratic panelists apparently cited Biden's easy-to-understand assessment of the effects of Indian-American immigration at home -- "You cannot go to a Seven-11 or Dunkin' Donuts unless you have a slight Indian accent."

Biden is spending a great deal of time this month in Iowa, the site of the first presidential caucuses, his first political travels there since his short-lived bid for the 1988 nomination.

In fact, today is the 19th anniversary of his appearance at an Iowa candidates' forum when he doomed his earlier campaign by quoting the family history of Neil Kinnock, a British politician, as though it were his own.

The date has gone unnoticed elsewhere. Sometimes the best press is what is not written.