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Carper retirement could leave two seats in Delaware open

State’s only House member, Blunt Rochester, may run for Senate

Sen. Thomas R. Carper's decision to retire could lead to multiple open races for statewide seats in Delaware next year.
Sen. Thomas R. Carper's decision to retire could lead to multiple open races for statewide seats in Delaware next year. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Democratic Sen. Thomas R. Carper’s decision to retire is likely to trigger two statewide races in Delaware next year: one to replace him and perhaps another for the state’s sole House seat. 

Carper threw his support to Democratic Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester, who has expressed interest in the Senate seat but hasn’t made a formal announcement. At his retirement announcement on Monday in Wilmington, Del., Carper said he’d spoken about the seat with Blunt Rochester, who was once an intern in his House office. 

“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,” Carper said.

If elected, Blunt Rochester would be the first woman and the first Black person from Delaware in the Senate. She could be the third Black woman ever elected to the Senate, though California and Maryland also could send, respectively, Rep. Barbara Lee and Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks. 

Blunt Rochester, Delaware’s sole member of the House, was first elected in 2016 and hasn’t faced a competitive Democratic primary since. In 2022, she was reelected by 12.5 points. A member of the Energy and Commerce Committee, she has pushed legislation related to health care and workforce modernization.

Before coming to Congress, she worked as a deputy secretary of Health and Social Services in Delaware, as well as the state’s secretary of Labor under two governors and as former Gov. Ruth Ann Minner’s state director of personnel. She then became the CEO of the Metropolitan Wilmington Urban League, a public policy research think tank. 

A run for Senate could lead to a competitive race to succeed Blunt Rochester in the House, where she has served since 2017. Democratic state Sen. Sarah McBride is reportedly considering a bid and, if elected, would be the first transgender member of Congress. 

Carper told reporters Monday he’d been discussing with his wife whether to seek another term 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.

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.

Fourth Democratic retirement

Carper, 76, is the fourth Democratic senator to announce his retirement, following Sens. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, Dianne Feinstein of California and Benjamin L. 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.

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 with Blunt Rochester on Monday 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.

‘Consensus across the aisle’

Carper is close to President Joe Biden and serves on the advisory committee for the president’s reelection campaign. Their ties were evident in a statement that Biden released Monday night praising Carper’s career. 

“Over the years, Tom and I often rode the train together, getting to Washington early in the morning, and back to Wilmington late at night,” Biden said in a statement Monday night. “I personally witnessed his tireless dedication to the people of Delaware. And I continue to admire his sincere commitment to forging consensus across the aisle in order to get things done.”

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 from the Natural Resources Defense Council after his retirement announcement called him “a voice of reason,” while a League of Conservation Voters statement said he was “a leading voice for clean air and water.” 

His retirement will bring a new top Democrat to at least that panel, if not a broader reshuffling of leadership. 

Next in line for Carper’s committee seat would be Senate Budget Chairman Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., assuming Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., wants to retain his chairmanship of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee if he runs and wins reelection next year.

A Whitehouse move would likely elevate Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., to the top Democratic seat on the Budget Committee since more-senior Democrats on that panel already head other committees. 

On a call with reporters on Monday, Whitehouse said he has made “no decision” on whether he would seek to be the top Democrat on the Environment and Public Works Committee in 2025.

David Jordan contributed to this report.

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