Longtime Democrat Senator Announces He Won’t Seek Re-Election
Senator Tom Carper, a longtime Democrat, recently announced that he plans to retire at the end of his fourth term. This decision will open his seat up for the first time since 2001 when he was elected to the Senate after serving as a state treasurer, governor, and congressman. He has held public office in Delaware since Jimmy Carter was president. His seat is viewed by many as a safe seat for Democrats to maintain control of in the 2024 elections. Carper is the fourth Democratic senator to decide not to run for reelection next year, following Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD), Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), and Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI).
A Crowded Primary
It is likely to be a crowded primary for a safe Democratic seat. Biden won Delaware by almost 20 points in the last Presidential election, and the state has had Democratic governors since the early 1990s.
Carper said that he spoke with Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester of Delaware and said he would support her if she ran for his seat. “We love Lisa, and I spoke with her this morning, and I said you’ve been patiently waiting for me to get out of the way, and I’m gonna get out of the way, and I hope you run, and I hope you will let me support you and support you in that mission, and she said ‘yes, I will let you support me,’” Carper told reporters.
A Fixture of Delaware Politics
Carper has been a fixture of Delaware politics. He issued a statement saying, “While nothing is forever, the Delaware Democratic Party is blessed today with a bench as strong as any I’ve ever seen in the 50 years that I’ve called Delaware home.” He added, “If there was ever an opportune time to step aside and pass the torch to the next generation, it’s coming, and it will be here on Jan. 3, 2025. “But, until then, God willing, I’ll continue working 60-hour weeks and coming home on the train most nights as long as Martha keeps leaving the light on for me.”
A History of the Aging Senate
The retirement of these long-serving Senators continues the trend of the aging Senate. Throughout history, many Senators remained in office until they passed away. The Senate used to be composed of members who were generally in their 60s, 70s, and even 80s. While the practice of staying in office until death has largely died out, aging is still a problem. At the start of the current Congress in January 2021, the average age of a senator was 63.3 years, with 26 senators over the age of 70.
Today, there is an increased focus on candidates being “youthful” and “fresh” rather than just being long-serving. Fewer Senators are now staying in office as long as their predecessors did. These retirements also highlight the renewed focus on representation of young and diverse communities in the US Government. This comes as the current administration works towards creating a more equitable and just future for all Americans.
Biden’s Delaware Connection
President Biden, the former Senator from Delaware, has had a close relationship with Carper since the 1970s when they both served in the Delaware Senate. Although they campaigned together frequently, they had different styles. Carper is more affable and low-key than Biden, who is known for his bold and passionate speeches. However, the two men shared the same commitment to the community.
Carper and Biden have witnessed Delaware’s transformation under their leadership. Delaware was initially known for its poultry farms and was often called “Little Delaware,” but it evolved into a wealthy and influential state with various business interests ranging from financial services to pharmaceuticals.
Carper’s Influence on Environmental Policy
Carper is known for his work on environmental policy while in the Senate. He has championed renewable energy, alternative fuels, and cleaner air and water for decades. He is a former chair of the Senate’s Environment and Public Works Committee. He also worked on several bills, including the Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework, which was aimed at creating jobs and combating climate change by investing in clean energy initiatives.
Carper’s colleagues spoke highly of him in the wake of his retirement announcement. “Tom Carper is one of the finest people I’ve ever known, in politics or outside of it. He has honored his oath to the Constitution, to his conscience, and to the people of Delaware and our nation for half a century,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said.
Additionally, Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), the ranking member of the Environment and Public Works Committee, thanked Carper for his service. “He and I have worked together on many issues and may have disagreed on some but always remained friends,” Barrasso said.
Carper’s Seat and The Democratic Party
Carper’s open seat in Delaware is a safe Democratic seat, as the state has been predominantly blue for years. However, a crowded primary can always lead to surprises, as seen when Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez won an upset victory in 2018 over Democratic Congressman Joe Crowley, who was the Chairman of the House Democratic Caucus.
With his announcement, Carper joins a growing list of Democratic senators who have announced they will not run for re-election in 2022 and 2024. That leaves a lot of open seats, which could make it difficult for Democrats to keep control of the Senate. Even so, Democrats are already looking for potential candidates to fill these seats, including state legislatures and members of Congress.
Senator Tom Carper’s announcement that he will not be seeking re-election has opened the door to a myriad of possibilities for the future of Delaware politics. As the fourth Democrat senator to step down at the end of his term, it seems that a change in political leadership is on the horizon. With Carper’s departure, it is certain that his influence will be missed in the Senate, particularly regarding his dedication to environmental and climate policy. However, as he steps aside, new leaders will emerge, and with them will come new ideas that will shape Delaware’s future for the better.