Sen. Tom Carper will not run for fifth term in Delaware next year

Supports Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester to succeed him

Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., does not plan to seek a fifth term next year.  (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., does not plan to seek a fifth term next year. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted May 22, 2023 at 11:49am, Updated at 2:51pm

Corrected 12:12 p.m. | Delaware Democratic Sen. Thomas R. Carper announced Monday he won't seek a fifth term, creating a rare vacancy in the Blue Hen State.

Carper said he'd been discussing whether to seek another term with his wife since the end of last year.

"After a good deal of prayer and introspection and more than a few heart-to-heart conversations, we decided ... I should run through the tape over the next 20 months and finish the important work that my staff and I have begun on a wide range of fronts," Carper, the last Vietnam veteran serving in the Senate, said during a press conference flanked by his wife in Wilmington, Del.

Issues that Carper said he wants to focus on as he finishes his term included health care, the workforce and implementing the bipartisan infrastructure law passed in 2021.

Carper, 76, is the fourth Democratic senator to announce his retirement, following Sens. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, Dianne Feinstein of California and Ben Cardin of Maryland. On the Republican side, Sen. Mike Braun is running for Indiana governor instead of another Senate term.

With the exception of Michigan, the states with Democratic vacancies are all heavily Democratic. Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester, D-Del., is widely seen as a potential successor to Carper in the Senate, and he said he spoke with her Monday morning.

“I said, ‘You’ve been patient, 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 in that mission.’ And she said, ‘Yes, I will let you support me.’ And so I’m going to,” he said. He noted reporters would have to talk to her to confirm she’s running.

Blunt Rochester put out a tweet praising Carper’s work for the state, but it did not comment on the race. Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer spoke Monday with Blunt Rochester and “he believes she could be a really good senator,” a spokesman said. 

Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales is maintaining its Solid Democratic rating of the race.

“Since the vast majority of incumbents win reelection, open seats can give parties a better opportunity to win,” said Gonzales, a CQ Roll Call elections analyst. “But not all open seats are created equal. An open seat in Ohio or Montana would have been far more problematic for Democrats than a solidly Democratic state like Delaware."

Republicans need to pick up two seats to take the majority next year, or they could control the chamber by winning a net of one seat if they win the presidency since the vice president breaks ties. 

"Senate Democrats keep retiring because they know they are going to lose the majority," National Republican Senatorial Committee spokesman Tate Mitchell said in a statement.

Carper, a one-time political wunderkind first elected to statewide office at 29, has held the Senate seat since 2001. He also served five terms in the House and two terms as Delaware's governor.

In a sign he may not have been planning another run, Carper raised just $195,000 between January and March of this year, according to filings with the Federal Election Commission. The only senators whose terms are up next year who raised less were Cardin, who announced his retirement earlier this month, and Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah.

Carper is a centrist, pro-business Democrat. In 2018, he faced a challenge for the Democratic nomination from progressive community activist and Air Force veteran Kerri Evelyn Harris. Carper won the primary 65 percent to 35 percent.

As chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, he has championed compromise legislation that would impose a federal fee on methane emissions. He faced criticism from some environmental groups and progressives who wanted him to take a harder line. But a statement after his retirement announcement from the Natural Resources Defense Council called him “a voice of reason,” while a League of Conservation Voters statement said he was “a leading voice for clean air and water.”

Carper is close to President Joe Biden and serves on the advisory committee for the president's reelection campaign.

This report was corrected to reflect the year the bipartisan infrastructure bill was enacted.