Delaware’s Congressional Trio
Stands out from its predecessors for a number of reasons—and not just because their last names all start with the same letter.
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As a matter of fact, the history of Delawareans in the Congress can be regarded as something of a roadmap to state politics through the years. The state was once virtually feudal in its outlook, its members of Congress often also members of famous families like the du Ponts and the Bayards. It did not matter whether they were Republican or Democrat. Party politics meant less than pedigree.
There was, for example, Thomas F. Bayard Jr., a senator in the 1920s. Not only were there Bayards who were part of Delaware delegations going all the way back to the Continental Congress, but Bayard himself married a du Pont.
Past delegations were also a reflection of how much the two lower counties used to dominate politics before New Castle County had its colossal suburban growth spurt. Until then, there were a lot of senators from tiny downstate places—like John Williams from Millsboro and J. Caleb Boggs from Cheswold.
More recently, the delegation was living proof of Delaware’s days as a confirmed swing state, a bellwether that voted for the winning presidential candidate in every election from 1952 to, well, almost 2000 when it went for Al Gore over the second George Bush. There, but for the hanging chad in Florida, so might the White House have gone, too.
During that same half-century stretch, the delegation was nearly always bipartisan. Much of it was due to the extraordinary half-Republican and half-Democratic pair of Bill Roth and Joe Biden in the Senate, from Biden’s election in 1972 until Roth’s defeat in 2000.
This is where Carper, Coons and Carney come in. They are political Delaware today.
There is not a blueblood name among them, not a downstater, not a Republican. They are a departure from a long line of delegations that were almost never all-Democratic. Before them, it had only happened twice—because of the 1916 election when the Republicans were divided by a bitter feud and the 1940 election when Franklin Roosevelt was sweeping the country for his third term.
Carper, Coons and Carney are in their second congressional session together, and it does not look like they will be going anywhere anytime soon. Carper was re-elected to a new six-year term in 2012 by a 2-1 margin, and the Republicans do not yet have the ghost of a candidate to run against either Coons or Carney in 2014.