Almanac A members-only database of searchable profiles compiled and adapted from the Almanac of American Politics

Sen. Thomas Carper (D)

Delaware

N/A

carper.senate.gov

Biography

Elected: 2000, term expires 2018, 3rd term.

Born: January 23, 1947, Beckley, WV

Home: Wilmington, DE

Education: OH St. U., B.A. 1968, U. of DE, M.B.A. 1975

Professional Career: Industrial devel. specialist, DE Div. of Econ. Devel., 1975–76.

Ethnicity: White/Caucasian

Religion: Presbyterian

Family: Married (Martha Ann Stacy) , 2 children

Democrat Thomas Carper, first elected in 2000 and now Delaware’s senior senator, is a centrist consensus-builder who is well-liked on both sides of the aisle. A former House member and governor, he took over in 2013 as chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, continuing two years later as the panel's top Democrat.

Carper grew up in Southside Virginia and Ohio and graduated from Ohio State University. He first came to Delaware as an ensign in the Navy, then returned to get his M.B.A. at the University of Delaware after service in Southeast Asia, where he was a mission commander piloting submarine-hunting planes. In 1976, he was elected state treasurer, at age 29. He ran for the U.S. House in 1982 and beat a scandal-tarred incumbent. In office, Carper established a moderate voting record and worked to let banks into the securities business and to prevent ocean sludge-dumping, both causes supported by Delaware constituencies. In 1992, when Republican Gov. Michael Castle was term-limited and ran for the House, Carper ran for governor and won the general election with 65% of the vote.

As governor, Carper pursued an agenda that was in many ways more conservative than liberal. He continued former Republican Gov. Pete du Pont’s policy of cutting taxes, reducing income tax rates by about 10%, and also cutting small-business and utility taxes. Delaware’s strong economy helped him keep the budget in the black, and he boosted the state’s credit rating to a historic high even as state spending rose 40% in eight years. He also signed a bill authorizing charter schools. He was re-elected 70%-30% over then-Treasurer Janet Rzewnicki. Barred from a third term, he ran in 2000 for the U.S. Senate seat held by Republican William Roth since 1970.

This was a battle of positives. Both candidates had very high approval ratings at home, and both were familiar figures to many voters; they brought a combined total of 58 years in statewide office to the race. Roth had a record of achievements that paid direct benefits to people in this generally affluent state: the Kemp-Roth tax cut of 1981, the Roth IRA enacted in 1997, the reform of the Internal Revenue Service passed in 1998, and $2.3 billion for Amtrak capital improvements in 1998. Roth’s main problem was that he was 79 years old. The then 53-year-old Carper was careful not to campaign negatively against Roth or to attack him for his age, but his slogan, “A Senator for Our Future,” spotlighted the contrast between their ages. Carper’s 16-hour campaign days contrasted with Roth’s approach. He stayed in Washington and made only a few campaign appearances with his trademark St. Bernard dogs. Roth outspent Carper, $4.3 million to $2.5 million, but the Democratic Party spent some $4 million in Delaware, more than evening the score. In October, Roth fainted twice on the campaign trail, once in full view of cameras, events that drove home the issue of his age. Polls showed the race close to even in September and October, but in November, Carper won by a solid 56%-44%.

In the Senate, Carper has one of the more moderate voting records among Democrats and has been actively involved over the years with centrist organizations like the Democratic Leadership Council. He is often at the center of efforts to build bipartisan coalitions when important legislation bogs down, such as efforts to pass a health care overhaul bill in 2009 and 2010. He has expressed frustration with the pace of getting things done in Congress, and has complained to colleagues on occasion: “My worst day as governor was better than my best day as a United States senator.” He has pushed for changes in the filibuster and other Senate rules that have delayed the pace of legislation, as well as a presidential line-item veto.

During work on a major revision of health insurance policy, Carper bucked liberals in his party by opposing creation of a government-run insurance plan for people who could not afford private plans. But rather than attack the public option idea, he tried to broker a compromise that he and other centrist Democrats could support. He advanced an alternative that would allow states to individually decide whether to offer such an option to compete with private insurers. The public option was ultimately dropped from the final legislation because of opposition from Republicans and other centrist Democrats.

Carper has taken a major role in clean air legislation. In 2006, he cosponsored with Republican Lamar Alexander of Tennessee a bill to limit emissions of sulfur dioxide, nitrous oxide, mercury and carbon dioxide. The legislation has gone nowhere year after year, but Carper keeps trying. In February 2010, he and Alexander reprised their bill to substantially reduce emissions from power plants, and when it failed to attract sufficient bipartisan support to pass, they put it on hold—again. When the Environmental Protection Agency announced new power plant pollution regulations in July 2010, Carper called it “a step in the right direction,” but said he preferred to keep trying to enact a law that would be more resilient to court challenges than the agency’s rule. He defended the EPA against House Republicans’ criticism, citing an April 2012 American Lung Association study that found improvements in 18 of the 25 most pollution-plagued cities as evidence that “we can have a strong economy, clean air, and protect public health all at the same time.” Carper also has called for increased use of nuclear energy, and with his Delaware colleagues, he has promoted offshore wind energy.

From his seat on the Governmental Affairs Committee, Carper has been most closely identified with his efforts to rescue the financially ailing Postal Service. He worked with moderate Republican Susan Collins of Maine to pass in 2006 the first major revision of Postal Service business operations since 1970. (More than half of credit card issuers have operations in Delaware, and that industry provides one-quarter of the Postal Service’s mail.) Their bill provided for a streamlined rate increase procedure and for holding increases below inflation for 10 years. It passed after last-minute compromises with postal unions and retiree groups. He got another measure through the Senate in April 2012 on a bipartisan 62-37 vote that allowed the service to offer buyout and early retirement incentives to 100,000 employees; reduced six-day delivery to five days after giving officials two years to come up with an alternative to save costs; and restructured its retirement health benefits. But the measure stalled in the House, which left Carper so frustrated that he created a Facebook page complaining about the lack of action.

In the past, Carper got bills into law beefing up protections against government payments to ineligible people who claim retiree or disability payments and requiring audits to identify billions of dollars lost through waste and fraudulent claims. He also teamed up with Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut and Collins on a bill to improve cyber security for Internet users, including giving the president authority to shut down Internet services in a national emergency. Critics, including GOP senators and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said the bill went too far in allowing the government to control the Internet.

Carper has a seat on the influential Finance Committee, where he has strongly backed free trade and sought middle ground in the ongoing budget wars between the Obama White House and the Republican-controlled House. In November 2012, he called for a deficit reduction blueprint similar to one developed earlier by the bipartisan Simpson-Bowles commission, calling it “a smart plan that puts everything on the table, not just spending cuts.” His affinity for that plan led him to be one of just three Senate Democrats to oppose the final budget deal on New Year’s Eve 2013, intended to avert the so-called “fiscal cliff” of automatic tax hikes and spending cuts. He supported a 25-cent-a-gallon hike in the gasoline tax to finance road and bridge improvements as well as to reduce the deficit.

In earlier battles, Carper, with five Republicans and five other Democrats, managed in the early 2000s to condition the Bush tax cuts on deficit reduction. And in 2005, he was more open to Social Security privatization than many Democrats, saying he would not “rule out at some point having private accounts.”

Delaware is a small state in which unusually large percentages of voters meet with their elected representatives in person. It has a unique tradition of “Return Day,” the day after the election, in which losing candidates along with winners take part in a parade in the town of Georgetown. It is a familiar ritual for Carper, who has been elected to statewide office 13 times and has ties to just about every prominent Democrat in the state. He even keeps a database with several hundred birthdays, so he can make congratulatory calls to friends and supporters.

Carper has had no trouble winning reelection. His 2012 opponent, Republican engineer Kevin Wade, raised questions about Carper’s health—which the senator called “baloney”—and blasted his proposal to raise the gas tax. Carper coasted with 66% of the vote.

Office Contact Information

MAIN OFFICE

(202) 224-2441

(202) 228-2190

HSOB- Hart Senate Office Building Room 513
Washington, DC 20510-0803

MAIN OFFICE

(302) 573-6291

(202) 674-5464

HSOB- Hart Senate Office Building Room 513
Washington, DC 20510-0803

DISTRICT OFFICE

(302) 573-6291

(302) 573-6434

One Christina Centre Suite 102L-1
Wilmington, DE 19801-3974

DISTRICT OFFICE

(302) 573-6291

(202) 674-5464

One Christina Centre Suite 102L-1
Wilmington, DE 19801-3974

DISTRICT OFFICE

(302) 573-6291

(202) 674-5464

The Duncan Center Suite 470
Dover, DE 19904-3298

DISTRICT OFFICE

(302) 674-3308

(202) 674-5464

The Duncan Center Suite 470
Dover, DE 19904-3298

DISTRICT OFFICE

(302) 856-7690

(302) 856-3001

12 The Circle
Georgetown, DE 19947-1501

DISTRICT OFFICE

(302) 573-6291

(202) 674-5464

12 The Circle
Georgetown, DE 19947-1501

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Election Results

2012 GENERAL
Thomas Carper
Votes: 265,415
Percent: 66.42%
Kevin Wade
Votes: 115,700
Percent: 28.95%
2012 PRIMARY
Thomas Carper
Votes: 43,587
Percent: 87.85%
Keith Spanarelli
Votes: 6,028
Percent: 12.15%
2006 GENERAL
Thomas Carper
Votes: 170,567
Percent: 70.0%
Jan Ting
Votes: 69,734
Percent: 29.0%
2006 PRIMARY
Thomas Carper
Unopposed
Prior Winning Percentages
2006 (70%), 2000 (56%); Governor: 1996 (70%), 1992 (65%); House: 1990 (66%), 1988 (68%), 1986 (66%), 1984 (59%), 1982 (52%)

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