Straddling the Mason-Dixon line, Delaware is in many ways a microcosm of the country throughout its history. The southern two counties (Kent and Sussex) are rural Southern in character and politics, and accepted the practice of slavery during the early years of the Republic. The northern county (New Castle), by contrast, is more Northern in character and encompasses a major city (Wilmington) that later came to be dominated by its suburban outskirts. Delaware has typically been a bellwether state in presidential elections; it voted for the winner of the popular vote in every election from 1952 through 2000. In recent years, however, the state has become fairly reliably Democratic, voting for Gore-Lieberman (55 percent-42 percent), Kerry-Edwards (53 percent-46 percent), and Obama-Biden (62 percent-37 percent).
The current incumbent, Thomas Carper, is an icon in modern Delaware politics. After serving eight years as state treasurer, Carper in 1982 ousted Rep. Thomas B. Evans Jr., who had the misfortune of allegedly appearing in a videotaped liaison with lobbyist Paula Parkinson (as was the case with other members of Congress). In 1992, Carper ran for governor and won. In that job, he compiled a fairly moderate record. He cut taxes, a feat made easy by the tolls placed on the short stretch of I-95 that cuts through the state's northern reaches and by the taxes placed on corporations, which flock to Delaware to take advantage of the state's expansive 19th-century corporate laws. He instituted school choice and charter schools, while otherwise expanding state funding and the rainy-day fund.
In 2000, Carper set his sights on incumbent Sen. Bill Roth. Roth had developed a distinguished career in the Senate, sponsoring the Kemp-Roth income tax cuts of the 1980s and developing the popular Roth IRA. But he was approaching 80. Both men had high approval ratings going into the race. While polling indicated a close contest, Roth had the misfortune of fainting twice on-camera in October. This probably made the difference, and Carper won by the surprisingly large margin of 56 percent-44 percent.
The Republican Party of Delaware is in a bit of shambles after the nomination of Christine O'Donnell in 2010, who beat Rep. Mike Castle in the primary. Carper has not drawn serious opposition this time around.