The latest insurgent Democrat over-performed once again. But this time it wasn’t enough.
Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE) easily defeated progressive challenger and community organizer Kerri Evelyn Harris, who, in her first ever political campaign, gave voters an option to reject an experienced politician who doesn’t quite mirror the Democratic Party base’s leftward lurch. Earning over a third of the vote in the primary, Harris mounted a strong campaign against the Delaware veteran.
Carper had not lost any of his 13 previous elections in the state, earning him positions as treasurer, the state’s sole House member, governor, and eventually senator. In 2012, he blew out a primary opponent, earning 88 percent of the vote. He’s been running and winning races since 1976 and tacked to the left recently, a move that could be attributed to Harris’ unapologetically leftist campaign.
In a campaign season of unexpected triumphs for new Democrats challenging the old guard of the party’s politics, from Massachusetts to New York to Florida, a victory for Harris in Delaware would have perhaps been the most significant, granting a newcomer with working-class bona fides an opportunity to join Congress’ 100-person body.
Harris, a 38-year-old Air Force veteran who is African-American and LGBTQ—she jokes she’s a “whole lot of otherness”—had essentially everything going against her. Carper, who will now likely serve his fourth and possibly final term in the U.S. Senate, had a deep war chest and spent more than $3 million on his bid, while Harris spent just over $100,000. She was new, he was experienced. He needed no introduction to voters, and Harris had to tell them who she was.
The combined efforts boosting Harris weren’t enough to pull off what would have been the state’s biggest upset since Christine O’Donnell won the Republican Senate nomination in 2010.
In the final weeks of the campaign, multiple progressive groups who have worked on insurgent campaigns throughout the country, including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s successful bid in New York’s 14th Congressional District, set up shop in Delaware to assist Harris’ operation.
Additionally, Ocasio-Cortez herself came to campaign with Harris, in part due to their shared advocacy for Medicare for All, the abolition of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency, rejecting corporate PAC money, and a $15 minimum wage. Harris’ team also came to the Bronx this past summer to boost the leftist New York congressional candidate.
“She had my back, and I’m here to have hers because that’s how the progressive movement really works,” Ocasio-Cortez said at a recent event The Daily Beast attended at the University of Delaware.
Meanwhile, Carper had the backing of former Vice President Joe Biden, the state’s other towering political giant, who recorded a robocall on his behalf.
Harris, who largely avoided a negative campaign against Carper, assailed him in their first and only debate for voting to approve the Keystone Pipeline and voting for President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh to a federal appeals court in 2006. She argued that her personal experiences, from being an auto mechanic to frying chicken at a gas station, and the fact that even during the campaign she was concerned about having to pay for her 1-year-old’s diapers and dipping into a quarter jar for gas, would provide a necessary antidote to the wealthier members of Congress who had lost touch with their communities’ needs.
At her election night party in Wilmington, Harris pledged to support Carper in November while working with him “to put Delaware first.”
“We know that no one election determines the direction of our country, but rather that ongoing, vocal, public support for our progressive values will eventually help shift our legislators towards solving our common concerns,” she said, citing Carper’s recent support for a $15 minimum wage and the rescheduling of marijuana.
Carper campaigned on his experience to get the job done for Delawareans and said that after decades representing them, he wasn’t slowing down just yet.
“I am not frustrated,” Carper said in the recent debate. “I’m motivated. I’m not sad. I’m mad. And I’m not fed up. I’m fired up.”