Morning Digest: Longtime Democratic senator announces retirement and asks preferred successor to run

Gun Rights

While the eventual Democratic nominee should have no trouble in the general election in solidly blue Delaware, state politics were far different during the early part of Carper’s career. The future senator, who was born in West Virginia and served in the Navy during the Vietnam War, making him the last veteran of that conflict still serving in the Senate. He initially arrived in the First State in 1973 as a student of the University of Delaware’s business school. He quickly became involved in local politics the next year by working on Democrat Jim Soles’ campaign for the House, an effort that ended in a 58-40 loss against Republican incumbent Pete du Pont despite the Watergate wave that ushered many Democrats into Congress.

Carper, though, had more luck in 1976 when he sought the post of state treasurer at the age of 29 and won 55-43 as Jimmy Carter captured the state’s electoral votes by a smaller 52-47 margin. Carper’s win proved to be a bright spot for his party locally on what was otherwise a rough night: Du Pont unseated Gov. Sherman Tribbitt in a landslide while two future Carper foes prevailed in their respective races, with Sen. William Roth winning reelection and Thomas Evans succeeding Du Pont in the House.

The new treasurer, though, quickly proved he could decisively hold down his post every two years (the treasurer’s term was only extended to four years in 1983) even during tougher political climates. Carper won 59% in both his 1978 and 1980 reelection bids, with the latter campaign taking place as Ronald Reagan was carrying the state 47-45 and Evans was winning 62-38. But while Evans was one of Reagan’s closest allies, his political fortunes nosedived the following year over an affair with a lobbyist.

Carper, with encouragement from then-Sen. Joe Biden, ended up launching a challenge to Evans just five minutes ahead of the candidate filing deadline in 1982, and he looked like the frontrunner for much of the campaign. The race, though, appeared to close late after the New York Post ran a story claiming Carper had abused his wife and children.

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Both denied the allegations, with Carper’s wife, Diane, saying, “Let me state, unequivocally, that I would never allow my children or myself to be abused.” Carper unseated Evans 53-47 in what would be the only single-digit victory of his career, a win that came shortly before the Carpers’ marriage ended. Yet despite his fierce denials and threats to sue the Post, Tom Carper admitted in 1998 that he had in fact struck his wife. “Did I slap my wife 20 years ago? Yes,” he told reporter Celia Cohen, who was writing a book about Delaware politics. “Do I regret it? Yes. Would I do it again? No.”

In 1992, Carper left the House to trade jobs with Republican Mike Castle, who was termed-out as governor, in a move that became known as “the Swap.” Both men had no trouble winning their new offices, and Carper’s victory kicked off an unbroken streak of Democratic control of the governorship that continues today. But despite his detente with Castle, Carper had no such understanding with Roth, the state’s other top Republican, and Carper decided to challenge him for the Senate in 2000 in what would become a closely watched battle.

Roth, the namesake of the popular Roth IRA retirement account, had won reelection in 1994 56-42, two years before Carper claimed a second term as governor in a 69-31 landslide. At the start of their campaign, Carper posted decisive leads in the polls, though things once again seemed to get closer in the final weeks.

The two largely avoided directly attacking each other, though the 53-year-old Democrat appeared to reference the 79-year-old incumbent’s age with messages like “Tom Carper. A Senator for Our Future.” Roth suffered two fainting spells late in the campaign, which brought him unwelcome scrutiny at a crucial time, even though Carper never addressed his opponent’s health issues. Ultimately, Carper won 56-44 as Al Gore was carrying the state by a similar margin.

The senator never again earned any serious opposition from the GOP, but he did face a spirited primary foe during his final campaign in 2018. Air Force veteran Kerri Evelyn Harris tried to take advantage of progressive anger at Carper’s support for the banking and pharmaceutical industries, both of which have a major presence in Delaware, as well as his 2006 vote to confirm Brett Kavanaugh as an appeals judge. Harris, however, struggled to raise money against Carper, a Delaware institution, and the senator turned her back 65-35 ahead of one final easy victory in the general election.


OH-Sen: GOP Sen. J.D. Vance on Monday endorsed wealthy businessman Bernie Moreno’s campaign against Vance’s colleague, Democratic incumbent Sherrod Brown. Both Vance and Moreno sought the nomination last year for Ohio’s other Senate seat, though the latter dropped out well before the primary. The Trump-endorsed Vance went on to defeat a crowded field that included state Sen. Matt Dolan, the third-place finisher who is competing with Moreno this cycle.

The 2024 contest doesn’t look like it will be anywhere near as busy, though two more notable Republicans may dive in before long. Unnamed sources tell that Rep. Warren Davidson is, in the words of reporter Andrew J. Tobias, “expected to make a decision about the race soon.” Secretary of State Frank LaRose, for his part, recently said he’ll make up his own mind in “by the middle part of summer,” though he sounded quite likely to run in voicemails he left for donors.

PA-Sen: State Sen. Doug Mastriano says he’ll reveal this week if he’ll seek the Republican nod to take on Democratic Sen. Bob Casey, and he hinted he had “crazy good news” to share. Democrats would certainly use those words to greet another effort from Mastriano, the election conspiracy theorist who just suffered a 56-42 shellacking last fall at the hands of now-Gov. Josh Shapiro.


IN-Gov: Conservative radio host Rob Kendall used his show last week to relay a rumor that disgraced former Attorney General Curtis Hill is considering entering next year’s Republican primary for governor (the relevant portion begins at the 18:00 mark), a report he says comes from “multiple people … they’re not fringe people, they’re very informed people.”

Hill made history in 2016 when he became the first African American Republican to be elected Indiana attorney general, but his promising career started to collapse two years later when four women accused him of groping them. Hill, who refused to heed Gov. Eric Holcomb’s calls to resign, ultimately avoided criminal charges, but the state Supreme Court suspended his law license for a month in 2020 after determining he’d “committed the criminal act of battery.” Former Rep. Todd Rokita went on to dispatch the incumbent 52-48 a short time later at the nominating convention, and he won the post in the fall.

Hill sought a comeback in 2022 after Rep. Jackie Walorski died in office, but he fell well short. The party precinct committeemen tasked with choosing the new nominee favored businessman Rudolph Yakym, who had an endorsement from the congresswoman’s husband, 57-24.  

KY-Gov: Republican Daniel Cameron has publicized an internal from co/efficient that shows him trailing Democratic incumbent Andy Beshear only 45-43, which makes this the first poll we’ve seen of this race since Mason-Dixon gave the governor a 49-40 edge in January. Observers were quick to note that co/efficent both listed Cincinnati as a region instead of northern Kentucky and misspelled the Ohio city as “Cincinatti.”

MS-Gov: New Southern Majority, which is an affiliate of the Southern Poverty Law Center, is running a $250,000 ad campaign against Republican incumbent Tate Reeves accusing him of taking part in a “coverup” over the widespread misuse of state welfare funds.

NC-Gov: Former Rep. Mark Walker announced Saturday that he would seek the GOP nod in order to give the party an alternative to Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson, the far-right frontrunner whom Walker warned could wreck the party “up and down the ballot.” The former congressman campaigned for the Senate last year, but all he had to show for his effort was a paltry 9% of the vote and national scrutiny about his Waffle House order.

Walker, who called for his supporters to help him raise $1 million by June 30, joins a nomination contest that includes Treasurer Dale Folwell, who has also been touting himself as an electable conservative. A recent SurveyUSA poll for the conservative John Locke Foundation showed Robinson clobbering Walker 43-9 as Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler, who isn’t currently running, and Folwell respectively grabbed 8% and 4%.


AZ-01: Former TV anchor Marlene Galan Woods, a self-described “moderate Democrat” who expressed interest in taking on GOP Rep. David Schweikert back in January, has filed FEC paperwork.

CO-08, CT-05, RI-02: Politico reports that three defeated Republicans from last cycle―Colorado’s Joe O’Dea, Connecticut’s George Logan, and Rhode Island’s Allan Fung―are mulling 2024 House bids, though none are enthusiastic about the idea of Donald Trump leading the ticket. It’s not hard to see why: Trump lost Colorado’s 8th District 51-46 in 2020, while Joe Biden turned in double-digit wins in the two New England constituencies.

O’Dea himself lost the 8th 50-46 against Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet, according to data calculated by Daily Kos Elections; Democrat Yadira Caraveo won her own open seat race 48.4-47.7 the same night. Logan, meanwhile, fell short of beating Democratic incumbent Jahana Hayes by a 50.4-49.6 margin, while Democrat Seth Magaziner held off Fung 50-47.

NY-03: State Sen. Jack Martins, who was the 2016 Republican nominee for the previous version of this district, tells Politico he’s “not at all” interested” in trying to replace scandal-ridden incumbent George Santos.


VA State House, Where Are They Now?: Former Rep. Tom Garrett, a Republican who spent one chaotic term in Congress from 2017 to 2019, won Saturday’s party nominating convention for a safely red state House seat around Appomattox. Garrett served in the state Senate when he was elected to represent the 5th Congressional District, but he abruptly ended his 2018 re-election campaign two years later after disclosing he was focusing on his fight with alcoholism.

The House Ethics Committee issued a lengthy report on his final day in that office determining that he’d violated House rules by directing his staff to run personal errands for him. Staffers also told the committee that the congressman’s wife “would berate staff, often using profanity and other harsh language, for failing to prioritize her needs over their regular official duties.” The report additionally accused the Garretts of deliberately dragging their feet during the investigation so that they could run out the clock and avoid censure before the congressman’s term expired.

Mayors and County Leaders

Denver, CO Mayor: The Denver Republican Party has endorsed former Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce CEO Kelly Brough over her fellow Democrat, former state Sen. Mike Johnston, ahead of the June 6 nonpartisan general election. The local GOP, which is usually a marginal presence in a city that Joe Biden took 80-18, praised her for speaking at one of its events and argued, “We do not know how she will govern if she wins, but Brough stands out by not using Marxist vocabulary and by actually addressing taxpaying residents’ concerns.”


Marion Berry: Former Rep. Marion Berry, an Arkansas Democrat who served in the House from 1997 to 2011, died Friday at the age of 80. Berry represented northeast Arkansas during a period when this longtime Democratic stronghold shifted from blue to dark red, but the congressman himself never struggled to win reelection.

Berry, who ran his family farm, won his first race in 1976 when he was elected to the Gillett City Council, and then-Gov. Bill Clinton a decade later appointed him to the Arkansas Soil and Water Conservation Commission. He joined the Clinton White House after the 1992 election as a special assistant for agricultural trade and food assistance, but he got the chance to run for office himself in 1996 when Democratic Rep. Blanche Lincoln retired after learning she was pregnant with twins. (Lincoln won a Senate seat two years later.)

Some of the outside attention about this race swirled around how Berry’s name resembled that of controversial Washington Mayor Marion Barry, with the Arkansan recounting, “Once, my wife was picking up the car at the dealership in Alexandria, and they said it was ready over the PA system, and 12 people came up looking for her autograph.” Berry soon came close to winning the nomination outright by leading prosecutor Tom Donaldson 47-31, but his 28-year-old opponent held him to a 52-48 runoff victory despite Berry’s big spending edge: Talk Business predicted afterward that “Democrats may have found a rising star” in Donaldson, though that never came to pass.

Berry’s general election foe was former Jonesboro City Attorney Warren Dupwe, who had lost to Lincoln by a surprisingly small 53-47 margin in the previous cycle’s red wave, and Republicans hoped that he could flip this Democratic bastion this time. Both national parties diverted money to this contest, while Dupwe also received a visit from NRA head Charlton Heston. But while the Washington Post wrote that Berry “is not considered a natural campaigner,” his opposition to abortion and gun safety measures resonated in a region where conservative Democrats were still dominant. Berry prevailed by a wide 53-44 margin at a time when, according to analyst Kiernan Park-Egan, Clinton was taking the 1st in a 59-33 landslide.

Berry was unopposed two years later, and he never took less than 60% during any of his remaining campaigns. The Blue Dog Democrat became known for his quips, including the time he broke House rules in a 2005 speech by calling Florida Republican Adam Putnam a “Howdy Doody-looking nimrod,” but he remained a tough vote on major Democratic policies. The congressman opposed the Affordable Care Act after arguing it didn’t do enough to stop federal funds from covering abortions, and he blasted Barack Obama for a “lack of leadership.”

Berry picked up a Republican foe early in the 2010 cycle when farm news broadcaster Rick Crawford began what looked like a longshot campaign, but the political world never got to find out if he’d have beaten the entrenched incumbent in a constituency that favored John McCain 59-38. Berry, citing his health, decided to retire, and Crawford has held the 1st ever since.

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