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Democratic Sen. Tom Carper of Delaware won't seek reelection, opening up seat in liberal state

DOVER, Del. (AP) — Democratic Sen. Tom Carper of Delaware announced Monday that he will not seek reelection to a fifth term in the U.S. Senate.

Carper's announcement paves the way for a wide-open contest for the seat he has held since 2001 in heavily-blue Delaware. It also ensures that his unblemished record of never having lost an election during more than four decades in politics remains intact.

Carper, 76, said at a Wilmington news conference that he and his wife, Martha, began talking months ago about what he should do next. The options, according to the former two-term governor, were vying for a record 15th statewide election win, or to just “ride off into the sunset and call it day.”

“After a good deal of prayer and introspection, and more than a few heart-to-heart conversations, we’ve decided I should do neither, but, rather I should 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, many of them begun in partnership with Democrat and Republican colleagues in the Senate and in the House,” he said.

Carper is one of several incumbent senators who have announced that they will not seek reelection next year. The others are Democrats Ben Cardin of Maryland, Dianne Feinstein of California and Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, and Republican Mike Braun of Indiana.

Carper said his focus over the next year and a half will be helping ensure implementation of environmental provisions in the 2021 infrastructure law and the Inflation Reduction Act.

“Implementation of both laws is indispensable if we are ultimately to win the battle against global warming while creating tens of millions of American jobs in the years to come,” he said.

Christy Goldfuss, chief policy impact officer for the Natural Resources Defense Council, said Carper “has been a voice of reason and a champion for progress’’ on the environment for decades.

Carper said his other priorities include passage of permitting legislation that accelerates clean-energy projects, expanding economic engagement in the Indo-Pacific region, and ensuring federal funding for school-based child mental health services.

“God willing, I'll continue working 60-hour weeks and coming home on the train most nights as long as this lady will keep leaving the light on for me,” he said, putting an arm around his wife.

President Joe Biden, a former Delaware senator, released a statement Monday night noting: “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. 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.”

Carper indicated that with Democrats in full political control in Delaware, it is an opportune time for him to pass the torch.

“The Delaware Democratic Party is blessed today with a bench as strong as any I've ever seen in the last 50 years that I've called Delaware home,” he said. Asked whether he had any favorite to succeed him, he mentioned Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester, who is Delaware's lone representative in the House and once interned for Carper when he held that role. Blunt Rochester also served in Carper's Cabinet when he was governor.

“I spoke with her this morning,” Carper said. “I said, ‘you’ve been patient waiting for me to get out of the way, and I'm going to get out off the way.'” He said he also told Blunt Rochester that he hopes she runs and hopes she will let him support her.

"And she said, 'yes, I will let you support me,' and so I’m going to,” said Carper, deferring any questions on whether Blunt Rochester will indeed run to her.

Blunt Rochester issued a statement touting Carper's long service to the state and saying she was “thrilled” that he will be able to spend more time with his wife and family, but making no mention of her own political future.

A spokesperson for Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Schumer spoke with Blunt Rochester by phone after hearing of Carper's decision. Schumer told her he believes she could be a really good senator and that he looks forward to sitting down with her soon.

Another possible successor to Carper is Gov. John Carney, who also served as a staff member and Cabinet official for Carper during the latter's time as governor.

“For me, the senator has been a friend, a mentor, and a constant source of good advice. And I know I’m not alone in that respect,” Carney, whose second and final term ends in 2024, said in a prepared statement.

Carper served five terms in the U.S. House and two terms as governor before being elected to the Senate in 2000. He began his political career as state treasurer in Delaware. In the Senate, he built a reputation as a moderate Democrat with a strong interest in environmental issues. He also has helped lead efforts to shore up the financially struggling U.S. Postal Service.

“The great privilege of my life has been the opportunity to serve the people of the First State and of the United States in so many different roles for so many years,” he said.

Carper’s last election win came in 2018, when he easily defeated Republican challenger Rob Arlett, who had been Donald Trump’s state campaign chair in 2016. Carper faced off with Arlett after trouncing a progressive challenger in a Democratic primary, stemming an antiestablishment tide hoping to move the Democratic party to the left.