Chicken salad fuels Carper’s ceaseless campaigning

September 18, 2020

Delaware’s senior senator, U.S. Sen. Tom Carper, reminisced recently about campaigning a few decades ago in Sussex County. We were eating chicken salad sandwiches. He ate with the vigor that has kept him energized through nearly five decades as Delaware’s longest-serving elected official.

“I was at a community center dinner down around Gumboro, I think. That was Rep. Charlie West’s district at the time.

“They were serving chicken salad and it was good. One of my favorites. When I finished what was on my plate, I went back to the kitchen to see if I could get some more.

“’That chicken salad is great,’ I said to one of the ladies who was serving. ‘Can I get some more?’”

“‘Sure,’ she said. ‘We have plenty. At least two weeks’ worth of roadkill.’”

Carper started his political career in 1976 in Delaware when, fresh out of the Navy and a University of Delaware MBA graduate, he ran for and won election to the state treasurer’s position. That election put his name on ballots statewide where he has lived ever since. He has never been beaten in an election in Delaware.

The lifelong Democrat has been in continuous public office since those treasurer days. He left that office to run for Delaware’s lone House of Representatives seat, where he served several terms, and followed that with two terms as governor from 1993 to 2001. While finishing his second term as Delaware’s governor, Carper, in 2000, challenged and unseated long-term Republican Sen. Bill Roth for the Senate seat he now holds.

He was re-elected in 2018 to his third six-year Senate term and continues as Delaware’s longest continuously serving elected official.

Carper has never stopped campaigning since that first run for treasurer in 1976. He has rightfully earned recognition as Delaware’s version of the Eveready Energizer Bunny. He just keeps on running.

Carper remembered the primary election day in September 2010 when maverick Christine O’Donnell shocked the state’s Republican establishment. The starkly conservative O’Donnell beat the moderate Mike Castle – another popular longtime Delaware governor and congressman – in the race to appear on the November ballot in the special election to finish out Joe Biden’s term after his election as vice president in 2008.

“I was coming into Wilmington on the train from Washington when we passed the annual Polish festival. That’s one of my favorite annual events in Wilmington and I was headed there, late in the afternoon, to work the crowd.”

Carper repeated an old campaign ditty that he exemplifies: “Where there’s two or three, there I’ll be.”

He saw another politician in the crowd and asked him how things were looking in the primary voting. “He told me it looked like Castle was going to be beaten by O’Donnell. I looked around and saw Chris Coons.”  

The former New Castle County executive was the lone Democratic candidate for the Senate seat. Everyone saw that as a long-shot bid to beat Castle, who was expected to easily beat O’Donnell in the primary.

“I came up behind him and said quietly in his ear, ‘Chris – your life is about to change.’”

No more prophetic words were ever spoken.

These days, Carper is known as one of the U.S. Postal Service’s staunchest advocates and leading authorities.

He is also known as a steady friend of the environment and, who would have guessed, Delmarva’s poultry industry. Those chicken salad sandwiches run deep in Tom Carper’s political energy tank.      

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