Arlett facing uphill road in his bid to unseat Carper

DOVER — Polling outlets list Delaware’s U.S. Senate seat as a safe Democratic hold.

A September poll from the University of Delaware had Sen. Tom Carper winning a fourth term with ease, but Rob Arlett remains hopeful he can pull off a titanic upset.

Mr. Arlett, who won the Republican Party’s nomination for the Senate by collecting two-thirds of the vote in a primary, is running on a platform that in many ways resembles Donald Trump’s: Shake up Washington, kick out longtime politicians and represent the common people.

That’s no accident — Mr. Arlett was the Trump campaign’s Delaware chairman in 2016, and he remains a strong supporter of the president and his policies.

Whether he’ll have the same success in getting elected remains to be seen, but he faces a significant uphill battle in trying to unseat Sen. Carper.

A Democrat first elected to the Senate in 2000 after two terms as governor, five as U.S. representative and three as state treasurer, Sen. Carper is an institution in Delaware.

Rob Arlett

Many, many Delawareans have stories about running into the senator around the state, be it at a parade, the gym or in the middle of a road in Odessa, and Sen. Carper is always quick to introduce himself to anyone nearby.

His self-professed bipartisan approach remains popular with many Delaware residents. A September poll from the University of Delaware released last week reported 66 percent of Delawareans have positive views of Sen. Carper, nearly three times the number of those who see him unfavorably.

His influence on the state’s politics is hard to miss: Delaware’s governor, lone U.S. representative, chief justice and secretary of state all worked for him, as did several state legislators.

Sen. Carper is 71, but he maintains a busy schedule and emphasizes he is present for 99 percent of Senate votes and commutes between Washington and Delaware on a daily basis when Congress is in session.

“I will challenge anybody in this auditorium to keep up with me,” he said at an August debate.

In a sign of the times, he was faced with a primary opponent who sought to unseat him by running from the left. Sen. Carper defeated Kerri Evelyn Harris by collecting about 65 percent of ballots cast, although the challenge did push him to the left: He now supports a $15 minimum wage and marijuana decriminalization.

While Sen. Carper admitted to considering retiring, he ultimately opted to run out of a desire to protect the Affordable Care Act, be a check on the White House’s power, continue the country’s economic growth and “ensure Americans’ moral obligation to the least of these in our society remains strong.”

“My opponent seems to support Donald Trump’s plans to further sabotage your health care, add to the debt largely through tax cuts that benefit the wealthy and to ignore climate change despite very clear evidence it is happening and we’re contributing to it,” he said at a debate last week. “My vision for American is a far different one.”

Mr. Arlett sees himself as a breath of fresh air, pledging he will fight for Delawareans and won’t be beholden to corporate interests or to his party.

“We have a choice. We have a choice in 20 days,” he said at the recent debate. “We have a choice of looking to the past, partisanship, politics, career politician, what’s wrong with Washington D.C. I think we need to focus on the future.”

Tom Carper

The two are almost diametric opposites on some key issues: Sen. Carper opposed the 2017 tax cuts and the Supreme Court nomination of Brett Kavanaugh. He supports stricter environmental regulations and gun control.

Mr. Arlett has been critical of his opponent for voting against the Supreme Court nominee and the tax cuts. He paints Sen. Carper as hypocritical by pointing to the Democrat’s confession he once slapped his then wife.

“Sen. Carper is and has been an admitted wifebeater and lied about it,” he said.

The slapping incident has recently reentered the spotlight. Sen. Carper quickly grew angry after Mr. Arlett accused him of spousal abuse at last week’s debate.

“That is baloney,” he exclaimed. “Let’s set the record straight, OK, my friend? Let’s set the record straight, OK? Every one of us makes mistakes. … Over 40 years ago I made a mistake. I owned it. It was public knowledge.”

Although Sen. Carper said he owned up to his action, he did not publicly admit guilt until 1998, when he told longtime Delaware political journalist Celia Cohen that accusations he slapped his then wife, Diane, during an argument about 20 years prior were true.

However, contrary to claims made by some, including Donald Trump Jr. last month, Sen. Carper has never publicly confessed to anything more than a slap.

Mr. Trump, the eldest son of the president, in a September tweet wrote the senator hit his ex-wife “so hard it gave her a black eye.”

The issue has been raised several times before by political opponents, and Sen. Carper’s record is proof voters, so far, haven’t been swayed: He has never lost an election.

Just three Delawareans have held a Senate seat longer than Sen. Carper.

Throughout his career, the self-described “radical centrist” has appealed to voters from all parties.

“I think Carper’s message resonates with where Delaware voters stand more … and Arlett’s pro-Trump, conservative message, I thought he articulated it very clearly, but I’m not sure that in a state like Delaware, which is a blue-leaning state, that it’s a winning message,” Paul Brewer, the research director of the University of Delaware’s Center for Political Communication, said after last week’s debate.

Because Democrats have such an edge in registration numbers, Mr. Arlett will need to sway plenty of independents and likely even some Democrats if he is to become Delaware’s first Republican senator in 18 years.

He’ll also have to overcome a major fundraising gap: As of the end of September, he has raised about $119,000 since entering the race in April.

Sen. Carper, by contrast, has pulled in more than $2.87 million since the start of 2017.

Also running are Green Demitri Theodoropoulos and Libertarian Nadine Frost.

Over the past 20 years, no third-party candidate has earned more than 6 percent of the vote in a statewide race in which candidates from the two major parties are running. Just four have broken 3 percent.

 

Reach staff writer Matt Bittle at mbittle@newszap.com

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