Delaware Senate: Carper Calls It Quits

by Jacob Rubashkin May 23, 2023 · 9:01 AM EDT

Delaware Sen. Tom Carper announced Monday that he wouldn’t seek a fifth term in the Senate, signaling the end of a political career that began nearly a half century ago.

Carper’s decision opens up a Solid Democratic Senate seat, but don’t expect a messy primary. If Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester runs, she will have a clear shot at the nomination and the general election. When announcing his retirement, Carper said that he had encouraged Blunt Rochester (his former intern) to run and would support her if she did. And Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has also “nudged” her to run. 

Blunt Rochester, 61, comes from a political family — her father, Ted, was a Wilmington City Council president — and she first won election to Congress in 2016. In addition to having backing from Carper, she is a close ally of President Joe BIden; she co-chaired the former Delaware senator’s 2020 presidential campaign and was one of four people Biden tapped to oversee the selection of his running mate.

In Congress, Blunt Rochester sits on the Committee on Energy and Commerce. She is one of 23 Democrats to be a member of both the Congressional Progressive Caucus and the more moderate New Democrat Coalition. 

Blunt Rochester has been backed by pro-choice group EMILY’s List, and is rated highly by a litany of progressive organizations. In 2022, she received 100 percent ratings from the League of Conservation Voters, Planned Parenthood Action Fund, and the American Civil Liberties Union. In 2020, she received a 63 percent lifetime rating from the Chamber of Commerce (in the top third of House Democrats at the time).

The congresswoman would make history as the first Black senator from Delaware, which has the largest Black population of any state outside of the South by percentage. She would also be just the third Black woman to ever serve in the Senate.

Another factor working in Blunt Rochester’s favor is that, if she runs for Senate, there will be two other open statewide elected offices to attract away other ambitious Democrats: the race for governor, where Democrat John Carney is term-limited, and the at-large House district Blunt Rochester would be vacating.

Unlike the Senate race, the House primary could draw a number of contenders. 

State Sen. Sarah McBride is a close ally and friend of the Biden family, and worked on the late Beau Biden’s campaign for state attorney general in 2016. She is reportedly “quite likely” to run if Blunt Rochester seeks a promotion. McBride is the first openly transgender state senator in the country, was the first openly transgender speaker at a major party convention (the 2016 DNC) and would be the first openly transgender member of Congress.

State Rep. Keri Evelyn Harris challenged Carper in the 2018 Senate primary, holding the incumbent to a 65-35 percent victory with help from progressive allies such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and the Justice Democrats. The Air Force veteran would be the first Black lesbian in Congress. 

State Sen. Bryan Townsend placed second to Blunt Rochester in the 2016 Democratic primary for U.S. House, 44-25 percent. He became the state Senate majority leader in 2020. 

Delaware’s primary is one of the latest in the nation — September 10, 2024 — so there’s plenty of time for both races to develop. The filing deadline isn’t until next July. 

Republicans have not won a statewide race in Delaware since 2014, or a federal race since Rep. Mike Castle won a final term in 2008. The GOP had a chance to win Biden’s Senate seat in 2010, until they nominated Christine O’Donnell, of “I am not a witch” fame, instead of Castle.

Biden won Delaware by 19 points in 2020 and Blunt Rochester easily won re-election in 2022, 56-43 percent.