Sen. Tom Carper is the most popular, safe politician in my birth state of Delaware. In my lifetime, the closest he came to a fight was the 2000 race for U.S. Senate, when national Democrats tasked him with defeating Republican Sen. Bill Roth. (You have a Roth IRA? Thank Bill Roth.) Pundits, in those pre-Nate Silver dark ages, thought it would be a toss-up. Carper beat Roth by 12 points, and went on to win two more terms with more than two-thirds of the vote. In 2012 he secured his job for six years, running seven points ahead of the Obama-Biden ticket.
This all made Carper a strange hold-out on gay marriage. For weeks, when you asked his office what he thought of marriage equality you got this statement.
Sen. Carper was proud to support Delaware’s efforts to enact Civil Union legislation and earlier this month he joined 211 of his Congressional colleagues in co-signing the Amicus brief that urges the Supreme Court to invalidate Section 3 of DOMA. He has also said that he would vote to repeal DOMA. He also opposed President Bush’s attempt to enact a constitutional amendment to define marriage as between one man and one woman. Like many Americans including Presidents Obama and Clinton, Sen. Carper’s views on this issue have evolved, and continue to evolve. He continues to give this issue a great deal of consideration.
As we've seen, the word "evolve" is a Hardy Boys-worthy hint: No one says he's "evolving" and doesn't eventually change his mind. But when would Carper do it? He's 76, and part of a generation that's been slow to embrace gay marriage, but there was no political risk for him embracing the Delawarean vice president's position.
He finally got there today, on Facebook:
As our society has changed and evolved, so too has the public's opinion on gay marriage – and so has mine. I pray every day for God to grant me the wisdom to do what is right. Through my prayers and conversations with my family and countless friends and Delawareans, I've been reminded of the power of one of my core values: the Golden Rule. It calls on us to treat others as we want to be treated. That means, to me, that all Americans ultimately should be free to marry the people they love and intend to share their lives with, regardless of their sexual orientation, and that's why today, after a great deal of soul searching, I'm endorsing marriage equality.
Carper's evolution reduces the Senate's number of gay marriage Democratic hold-outs to seven: Indiana Sen. Joe Donnelly, North Dakota Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, South Dakota Sen. Tim Johnson, Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu, West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, Florida Sen. Bill Nelson, and Arkansas Sen. Mark Pryor. In what order will they evolve? To know this we need to put them into teams.
Senators retiring next year: Johnson
Senators up for re-election next year: Landrieu, Pryor
Senators not up for re-election until 2018: Donnelly, Heitkamp, Manchin, Nelson
Senators from states that have voted for Obama at least once: Donnelly, Nelson
Looks like Johnson would raise his hand next, right? Hard to say: His son Brendan may run for his U.S. Senate seat, and having a parent weigh in would lock him into a position he might not hold or want to hold. Nelson's got the smallest amount of risk—you'd think some 2018 Miami donors are going to ask him about marriage rights—so I bet he falls next. Landrieu and Pryor have the most to lose, sure, but to what degree can they alienate the gay/gay-friendly donor class leading in 2014? I'd put them on the bubble.