Sen. Carper to retire at end of term
WILMINGTON – After 40 years at the forefront of Delaware politics, U.S. Sen. Tom Carper announced Monday morning that he will retire at the end of his term in 2025.
“I have lived a charmed and blessed life,” the 76-year-old Carper said at a press conference on Wilmington’s Riverwalk.
After considering a run for what would be a record-breaking fifth senatorial term in Delaware, Carper decided instead to “run to the tape over the next 20 months and finish the important work that my staff and I have done on a wide range of fronts.”
His announcement marks one of the biggest changes in state politics since then-Sen. Joe Biden was tapped by Barack Obama to become vice president. It will open a Senate seat during a presidential electoral cycle that will surely draw big interest, especially among Democrats who hold all the political power in the First State.
Among those potential candidates are Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester, who once worked for Carper, and Gov. John Carney, who is term-limited and available to run in 2024. On Monday, Carper said that he had encouraged Blunt Rochester to run, and that he believed Carney could be a candidate for a Biden administration appointment during a second term. In December, Carney told Delaware Business Times that he had not considered a run for Carper’s Senate seat.
“I spoke with her this morning and said, ‘You’ve been patiently waiting for me to get out of the way. And I’m going to get out of the way. I hope you run, and I hope you’ll let me support you in that mission,’” he said.
Blunt Rochester, who if elected would be the first Black person and first woman elected to Delaware’s Senate seats, said in a statement Monday that, “No one put more miles in than Tom Carper. No one worked harder for Delaware than Tom Carper … To me, this is Tom Carper’s legacy. That he deeply loved our state of neighbors. That he worked tirelessly every single day to make it a better place. And that in his endeavor, he succeeded.”
Carper added that he considered stepping down before the 2018 election to allow Blunt Rochester a shot, but party leaders encouraged him to run to avoid a heavily contested primary. Today, he feels reassured that state Democrats have swept all major political victories in several cycles.
“The Delaware Democratic Party is blessed with a bench as strong as any I’ve ever seen in the last 50 years that I’ve called Delaware home. If there’s an opportune time to step aside and pass the torch to the next generation, it’s coming,” he said.
For Carper, it marks the nearing end of arguably the most important political careers in modern Delaware aside from Biden.
Born to a working-class family in West Virginia, Carper became a U.S. Navy pilot, serving three tours of service during the Vietnam War – he is the last Vietnam veteran serving in the Senate. After leaving the armed services, he earned an MBA from Ohio State University and ended up coming to work in the then-Delaware Economic Development Office.
Carper volunteered on the unsuccessful 1974 House campaign of Democrat James Soles, who lost to future Gov. Pete du Pont, but gained valuable experience as treasurer for the campaign. He quickly networked and self-financed his own campaign for state treasurer in 1976, which he won and was re-elected twice.
In 1982, he ran for the state’s lone congressional House seat, and he won that too, serving for a decade afterward. While serving in the House, Carper worked with then-President George H.W. Bush on a mission to Vietnam to normalize diplomatic relations in exchange for help and information on thousands of American soldiers killed or missing in the war.
Carper then served as governor from 1993 to 2001, overseeing massive changes in Delaware’s economy, including the arrival of the biopharmaceutical industry with the landing of AstraZeneca, and the redevelopment of Wilmington’s Riverfront. He also achieved the first AAA bond rating in the state’s history, sought to protect Delaware’s open space and shorelines, worked on welfare and education reform – all while furthering “The Delaware Way” style of government.
In 2001, he was elected to the U.S. Senate, where he has served ever since and become a leading voice on environmental issues – he now chairs the Senate Environmental and Public Works Committee.
Through it all, he has been a close friend to Biden, who helped Soles on his 1974 campaign after winning his own upset two years earlier. Biden convinced Carper to run for the Senate at the end of his gubernatorial term – and he would soundly beat Republican Bill Roth, who had served for 30 years in the Senate as a Delaware institution.
Carper, who was named to the Biden campaign’s National Advisory Board, said that he will work to get the president re-elected and downplayed any concern about the fact that Biden is older than he is but seeking another term.
On Monday night, the president released a statement thanking Carper for his service and friendship, adding that he admires Carper’s “sincere commitment to forging consensus across the aisle in order to get things done.”
Beyond his innumerable accomplishments in office, Tom has empowered and inspired generations of young Delawareans to enter public service and run for office. He has served as a role model, a mentor, and a trusted advisor to countless public servants throughout the state,” Biden added. “I look forward to working with Tom over the next year and a half to keep delivering for the American people, and I continue to be grateful for his leadership and service to the people of Delaware in the U.S. Senate.”
Looking back, Carper said that he is grateful for the support of Delawareans in his record-setting 14 elected terms in statewide offices.
“I’ve never felt the gratitude and affection of so many Delaware residents that I feel today when traveling through our small state. It is palpable. It is a source of joy and I deeply, deeply appreciate it,” he said.
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