In Delaware, Castle Refuses to Endorse O'Donnell for Senate

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Rep. Mike Castle, a Republican candidate for Senate from Delaware addresses supporters after his defeat on primary election night Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2010. Steve Ruark / AP

Rep. Mike Castle made what may be the last headlines of his 45-year political career on Thursday afternoon, when he announced that he will not endorse Christine O'Donnell, who defeated him in Tuesday's Senate Republican primary. That's good news for Democrats. Castle is a popular figure in Delaware, having previously won statewide office as governor, and his endorsement would have been helpful to O'Donnell's efforts at winning independent voters.

Castle was considered the favorite in the general election, while O'Donnell, a controversial political neophyte, is seen as the underdog against Democrat Chris Coons. Nate Silver of The New York Times, whose sophisticated statistical models of election results are closely watched by the politerati, downgraded the GOP's chances of taking control of the Senate from 26 percent to 15 percent because polls show O'Donnell trailing Coons by a large margin.

That's the good news for Democrats. But they should not put their party hats on yet. Castle said he would not endorse Coons, but would stay neutral. And, perhaps more important, he openly acknowledged that he was refusing to back O'Donnell because he was hurt by what he called "personal smears" she directed at him. For the Democrats, especially nationally, it would be a lot more helpful if he derided her as extremist or unqualified. No one outside of Delaware is going to really care about Castle's personal beef with O'Donnell.

Castle's reasoning also does not boost the Democrats who hope to see a major crack in  Republican Party unity over the Tea Party insurgency. Tuesday's Tea Party-affiliated victors, O'Donnell and Carl Paladino in the New York gubernatorial primary, had been criticized by their state Republican powerbrokers and national conservative pundits. But Castle is proving to be the exception, rather than the rule. Most Republicans are falling in line behind their party's nominees.

New York State Republican Chairman Ed Cox claims he is happy to have Paladino, who he had previously shunned, as his party's gubernatorial nominee. On Thursday, former New York governor George Pataki, who had endorsed Paladino's opponent, Rick Lazio, said he would likely endorse Paladino in the general election. Cox said he expects Lazio to campaign for Paladino as well.

Karl Rove, speaking on Fox News, said he supports O'Donnell despite having previously criticized her "nutty statements." He even bent over backwards to repudiate his earlier statements by claiming that his attacks on O'Donnell helped her by spurring her fans to donate to her campaign in response. And National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn immediately offered O'Donnell his endorsement and a $42,000 check.

All of this is consistent with Castle's reasoning. No Republican nominee is too extreme or unqualified for party leaders, and the only reason not to back the primary victor is if you feel personally insulted by him or her. So, yes, Democrats can celebrate their stroke of good luck in Delaware, but if they are expecting an internecine war to break out in their enemy's ranks, they are going to be disappointed.