Posted: Oct. 10, 2003
A VICMEAD HUNT FOR MIKE
By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer
It was a good thing the
Delaware Republicans were holding their premier event of the year at
a hunt club, because they had to go and find U.S. Rep. Michael N.
Castle, the party's top elected official who was being recognized
Friday evening at this "Salute at Vicmead."
Castle was missing because
he had spent the week on a fact-finding trip to Iraq with seven
other members of Congress, and the scheduling and the traffic turned
out to be too much to get him from the Washington area, where his
flight landed, to the Vicmead Hunt Club in time for the gathering.
In the glory days of the
early 20th Century, Vicmead really did house hounds and horses to
send on a hunt over the hills of Chateau Country in northern
Delaware, but that age has passed. In the go-go life of the early
21st Century, the Republicans tracked down Castle in a fashion that
was much less romantic.
He was hooked up with the
crowd through the modern wizardry of the cellular phone and a
"I have had the privilege of
introducing Mike Castle for 40-some years, but it's the first time
I've done it when he isn't here," cracked National Comitteeman W.
Laird Stabler Jr.
Castle spoke for about 10
minutes, giving the first public accounting of what he had seen. In
a rarity for such a gala event, there was stone quiet. That will
happen when people are listening to such things as Castle's
description of flying on a military transport with the flag-draped
remains of soldiers on their last ride home.
"It gives you a real sense
of the danger that is Iraq," Castle said. "When you move around the
streets of Baghdad, you move with a lot of protection, a lot of
guns, and you move fast."
The six-term congressman
left Iraq optimistic about the rebuilding efforts there after
briefings about the efforts being made to restore roads, schools and
the mail system -- "all the things I used to talk about when I was
governor" -- but less confident about security matters.
He also found the
information about the search for weapons of mass destruction "a
little scantier than I would like" but was withholding judgment
until there was more time to accomplish it.
Otherwise, Castle appeared
to have little doubt about the course being taken. "You're talking
about democracy in a place that's never known democracy. It's a
major transition," he said. "If we're going to do this, we're going
to do this correctly. Iraq is the key to the entire Middle East."
Castle's words were
broadcast to about 300 people at the Republicans' 19th annual
salute, a fund-raiser that features leading officeholders and brings
the party to the heartland of its contributor base. Tickets went for
$150 for individuals to $2,000 for patrons.
The Vicmead fund-raiser was
started in 1985 by former Republican State Chairman Basil R.
Battaglia when he was the deputy chairman as a salute to Castle,
then the governor, and William V. Roth Jr., then a U.S. senator.
There is even a precedent
for a missing officeholder at Vicmead. Roth was set to receive the
prime salute in 1995 shortly after he became the Senate Finance
Committee chairman, one of the most influential posts in Washington,
but his expanded responsibilities kept him in the capital that
evening. He had to send a videotape as a stand-in.
"I'm very disappointed to be
missing one of my favorite political events," Roth said at the time.
"Taking the helm of the Finance Committee has presented me with
exciting opportunities -- but having the time to celebrate is not
one of them."
Vicmead has such a glamorous
reputation that sometimes even Democrats cannot resist it. Joseph P.
Farley Sr., a former Democratic state chairman, was there, although
it was in his capacity as a lobbyist for Conectiv.
Priscilla B. Rakestraw, the
national committeewoman, took a telephone call from Samuel L.
Shipley, another Democratic ex-chairman, inquiring about the event
and teasing that he had heard the cost of a ticket was $10.
"Honey," Rakestraw told him,
"you can come for $10, and I'll put your name on a sponsor's table."
Shipley must have thought
better of it. He never showed.
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