DemDaily: Carper Announces Retirement from Congress

May 23, 2023

Delaware Senator Tom Carper (D) announced his retirement yesterday, opening up another US Senate seat in the critical 2024 election cycle.

Delaware is one of 34 of the 100 US Senate seats are up for election in 2024. Democrats are defending 23 seats, including three Independents that caucus with the Democrats. Republicans are defending 11 seats, including one special election held concurrent with the regularly scheduled November 5, 2024 elections.

Carper, 76, is the fourth Senate Democrat to announce his retirement this cycle, along with Senators Dianne Feinstein (CA), Ben Cardin (MD) and Debbie Stabenow (MI). Indiana Republican Senator Mike Braun is also departing the Senate at the end of his term to run for Governor.

Carper, a four-term US Senator, was first elected in 2000, unseating Republican Senator William Roth. He was reelected by more than 60% in 2006, 2012, and 2018.

He previously served as Governor for two terms, from 1993 to 2001, after having held Delaware's sole at-large US House seat for five terms. Prior to his ascension to Congress in 1992, he was Delaware's elected State Treasurer for three terms, from 1977 to 1983. All told, Carper has won 14 statewide elections. He is the last surviving Vietnam veteran to serve in Congress.

Well-respected among his colleagues in the Senate, Carper has epitomized “The Delaware Way" -- a less adversarial approach to politics that prioritizes consensus-building. The state's political patriarch, he established Delaware Democrats’ now-longstanding ideology of being socially liberal, while more moderate on economic and fiscal issues.

As chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works since 2021, he has been a leading voice on climate change, and played an instrumental role in the passage of both the landmark bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and the Inflation Reduction Act. He has also led the fight to make Washington, D.C. the country’s 51st state.

Carper is a close ally of President Joe Biden, who in a statement recalled their years of riding the train together between Wilmington and Washington when Biden represented Delaware in the US Senate. "Every part of the state of Delaware," said Biden, "is better off because of Tom’s devoted service."

The Heir Apparent
In the historically blue First State, which delivered a 59% victory for Biden in 2020 and where every statewide official is a Democrat, the favorite to replace Carper is at-large Democratic Congresswoman Lisa Blunt Rochester.

The state’s first woman and first African American member of Congress, Rochester was first elected in 2016 and won reelection last year with 55.5% of the vote -- strongly positioning her for a Senate contest among the same statewide electorate.

She served as a co-chairwoman of Biden's 2020 election campaign, and has been mentored by Carper, who publically encouraged her to run with his support in his retirement speech.

Her victory would be an historic one, making her the third Black woman to serve in the US Senate, after former Senators Carol Moseley Braun (D-IL) and Kamala Harris (D-CA).

Rochester's run would also open up the state's at-large congressional seat. State Senator Sarah McBride (D), who was elected Delaware's first openly transgender state senator in 2020, is reportedly “quite likely” to run.

Other potential contenders are State Senator Elizabeth Lockman (D) and State Representative Kerri Evelyn Harris (D), who challenged Carper for Senate in 2018.

“This just seems like a good time just to turn the page and move on. I’ve got miles to go, and I’m going to make every day count.” - retiring Senator Tom Carper

DemDaily: 2024 Senate Race Ratings: The Update! 4/4/23
DemDaily: Cardin Retirement Sets Off Maryland Melee 4/3/23
DemDaily: Justice Jumps Into Senate Race 3/28/23
DemDaily: Update on the Senate Landscape 3/16/23
DemDaily: Measuring Michigan 2/28/23
DemDaily: The Race to Replace Feinstein 2/15/23

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Kimberly Scott

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Sources: Roll Call, The Hill, New York Times, Washington Post, Delaware Online

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