Tom Carper's retirement from the Senate opens a door for his protege, Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester.
If she runs and wins, she would be Delaware's first female and first Black senator.
She hasn't announced a bid but she told reporters she's interested in the job.
Tom Carper used to encourage his former staffer, Lisa Blunt Rochester, to run for mayor, but she had her eye on a different job: his job. Carper was, at the time, Delaware's lone member in the House of Representatives.
"I said, 'Well, I'm the congressman,'" Carper, who became a senator in 2001, recalled with a laugh after the congresswoman was first sworn into office in 2017. "And she said, 'Well, I want your job.' I said, 'Like, Right now?' She said, 'Eventually.'"
Now that Carper has decided to retire from the Senate when his fourth term ends in January 2025, he's endorsing Blunt Rochester as his successor. He told her, "You've been patient, waiting for me to get out of the way, and I'm going to get out of the way."
That pledge is earning him praise with at least one national organization focused on building political power for women of color. "He used his power and status to promote a Black woman leader as his successor in the United States Senate – and made that fact an indelible part of his legacy," said Aimee Allison, founder of She The People. "More elected leaders should follow his example."
Blunt Rochester, the state's first female and first Black member of Congress, hasn't officially announced whether she'll try to follow in Carper's footsteps again. Still, she told reporters on Capitol Hill Monday that she's interested in the seat.
Democrats are rallying around her. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York has already told her "he believes she could be a really good Senator and he looks forward to sitting down with her soon," a Schumer spokesperson told Insider and other news outlets.
Carper, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee chairman, said he told her he hopes she runs and will let him support her candidacy. "And she said, 'Yes, I will let you support me,'" he said, laughing.
Since 2000, Democrats have won every Senate race in Delaware, President Joe Biden's home state, which he represented in the Senate for 36 years.
If Blunt Rochester were to run and win, she would be the first Black senator and first woman senator from her state. She could also be the first Black female senator since Kamala Harris left the Senate to become vice president. Other contenders could be Rep. Barbara Lee of California or Maryland Prince George's County Executive Angela Alsobrooks, who are both running for Senate.
Who is Lisa Blunt Rochester?
Blunt Rochester focuses on economic and future of work-related issues in Congress and serves on the House Committee on Energy and Commerce Committee.
She has two children. Her second husband died in 2014 and she has not remarried.
She credited Carper's service on Monday for inspiring "a journey I could have hardly imagined."
She started her career in public life as an intern and caseworker in Carper's congressional office before becoming his advisor, a health and social services deputy secretary and labor secretary when he served as governor.
When she was first sworn into office, she told supporters the significance of her historic election wasn't lost on her. She showed them a special scarf with the image of a document signed with an "X" by her great-great-great-grandfather, who had been enslaved, that allowed him to vote in Georgia during the Reconstruction Era.
"This represents where we've come from," she said then. "We have the right to stand up; we have the right to serve."
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