WILMINGTON, Del. (CN) — Senator Tom Carper is stepping aside after the end of his term, the long-serving Delaware lawmaker announced Monday, a move that will tee up a key race in Democrats’ push to retain control of the Senate in 2024.
Carper, who began his career on Capitol Hill in 1983 as the First State’s sole congressman, told reporters during a press conference in Wilmington that he had decided against running for a record fifth term in the Senate and would instead put his focus on advancing Democratic policy priorities during the remaining months of his term.
“If there was ever an opportune time to step aside and pass the torch to the next generation, it’s coming,” Carper said. “In fact, it will be here on January 3, 2025, right around noon.”
Laying out the game plan for his last 20 months as a legislator, the senator on Monday cited clean energy rollout, drug prices and workforce development as some of the policy areas that will get his close attention. He also mentioned plans to focus on some state-level matters, including a proposed expansion to the Port of Wilmington.
Carper, 76, has been one of Delaware’s two senators since 2000. A Democratic whip, he chairs the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and also sits on the upper chamber’s homeland security and finance panels. Before he was elected to the Senate, Carper was the state’s governor and treasurer.
Carper’s announcement marks the second planned retirement of a sitting Democratic senator this month. Maryland Senator Ben Cardin announced May 1 that he, too, would not seek reelection in 2024.
Although Senate Democrats are clinging to what is just a one-seat majority in the upper chamber, it’s unlikely that Carper’s retirement would present Republicans with a realistic opportunity to flip a seat in Delaware — a Democrat stronghold where the party controls every state office and holds a supermajority in the Dover Legislature.
The outgoing senator took some credit for Delaware’s deep-blue hue, pointing Monday to what he called a decadeslong effort to “clean up” the state’s Democratic Party.
Meanwhile, Carper gave a premature endorsement to Delaware’s at-large Congresswoman Lisa Blunt Rochester and said he had spoken with the lawmaker Monday morning about running for his Senate seat.
“I said, ‘You’ve been patiently waiting for me to get out of the way, and I’m going to get out of the way,’” Carper told reporters. “We love Lisa.”
The senator would not say whether Blunt Rochester was actively considering a Senate run, but noted that she accepted his support during their Monday morning phone call. A spokesperson for the congresswoman’s office did not immediately return a request for comment.
In a tweet Monday, Blunt Rochester thanked Carper for his service. “No one has put more miles in than Tom Carper,” she wrote. “No one has worked harder for Delaware than Tom Carper.”
During Monday’s press conference, Carper rejected questions about his age and comparisons with the 80-year-old President Biden — also a former Delaware senator. “I work out probably six days a week: run four or five miles, went to the Y, lifted weights. He puts me to shame,” the lawmaker said. “He’s probably at most a 40-year-old man.”
Carper also spent some time reflecting on his decades in office, pushing back on the perception that lawmakers are more divided than ever along party lines.
“It’s actually less divisive, less hateful than you might believe by watching the news,” the senator said. “I’ve tried to keep good relations with both Democrats and Republicans, and work closely with the administration. I think I’m not the only one who does that.”
Carper pointed to West Virginia Senator Shelley Moore Capito, ranking member of the Energy and Public Works Committee, and Texas Senator John Cornyn as two Republican lawmakers whom he considers friends and valuable co-workers.
“I would get a lot more attention from the media if I said hateful things about Shelley Capito and John Cornyn,” Carper quipped. “We can do better, but as long as I’m here, I’m going to do my best to get things done and create a nurturing environment where people think of bipartisan solutions as lasting solutions.”
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