(Updates with Carper’s comments on potential successor.)
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Sen. Tom Carper, the Delaware Democrat who leads the Environment and Public Works Committee, announced Monday that he’s ready to conclude a public service career spanning nearly half a century and more statewide election wins than President Joe Biden.
At a press conference in Delaware, Carper said he would “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, many of them begun in partnership with Democratic and Republican colleagues in the Senate and in the House.”
Carper, 76, is the Senate’s only Vietnam War veteran, and the fifth sitting senator to forgo a re-election bid in 2024; Democrats Ben Cardin (Md.), Dianne Feinstein (Calif.) and Debbie Stabenow (Mich.) are retiring and Republican Mike Braun is running for governor of Indiana.
Delaware is a heavily Democratic state, so the party will be favored to maintain the seat even without the incumbent on the ballot.
Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester, 61, who’s won four elections in Delaware’s statewide congressional district, has expressed interest in serving in the Senate, and would be a clear early front-runner. The former Carper aide is the only woman and Black person to ever represent Delaware in Congress. The Senate presently has no Black women.
“I spoke with her this morning,” Carper told the press conference. “I said, ‘You’ve been patient, waiting for me to get out of the way, and I’m going to get out of the way. And I hope you run, and I hope you’ll let me support you in that mission.’”
Carper, a soft-spoken legislator with centrist impulses, has been the environment committee’s top Democrat since 2017 and its chair since 2021. His areas of focus include mitigating the effects of climate change. Carper would require net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
“As a senator from the lowest-lying state in our country, I can think of no greater challenge than the climate crisis,” Carper said at a committee hearing in February.
He has proposed supporting renewable energy and climate mitigation by requiring faster environmental impact statements and shortening the statute of limitations for bringing litigation under the National Environmental Policy Act.
Carper helped enact the 2021 infrastructure law (Public Law 117-58) and joined Biden when he signed the measure into law at the White House. Carper praised the law’s increased spending on highways, bridges, and electric vehicle charging and improving drinking water and wastewater systems.
In the 118th Congress, Carper also sits on the Finance Committee and leads its International Trade, Customs, and Global Competitiveness Subcommittee. He’s a member and former chair of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.
Carper got into politics after serving in southeast Asia as a Naval flight officer. In 1976, a year after earning an MBA from the University of Delaware, he was elected state treasurer at age 29 — the first of Carper’s 14 general election victories in Delaware without a loss.
In 1982, Biden urged him to run for Congress instead of a fourth two-year term as treasurer. Carper unseated Republican incumbent Thomas B. Evans Jr. and was easily re-elected four times.
Ten years later, he won Delaware’s governorship, swapping jobs with Republican Mike Castle. Carper served as governor through 2000, when he ran for the Senate and unseated five-term Republican incumbent Bill Roth, the chairman of the Finance Committee. Carper served with Biden in the Senate for eight years, until Biden became Barack Obama’s vice president in 2009.
Carper was overwhelmingly re-elected to the Senate three times. In 2018, he defeated progressive primary challenger Kerri Evelyn Harris, an Air Force veteran and community organizer, by 30 percentage points.
Carper is the only ex-governor of the 118th Congress who’s served in both the House and Senate.
“As a recovering governor, while exploring ways to improve federal policies, I often look to see what’s working well in the states and try to replicate those efforts,” Carper said in February.
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