U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin says he won’t seek reelection next year, ending a nearly six-decade run in Maryland politics and creating a scramble to fill a rare vacancy in the closely divided Senate.
“It’s time,” the 79-year-old Democrat told The Baltimore Sun in an interview at his Pikesville home in advance of his announcement Monday. “I always knew this election cycle would be the one I would be thinking about not running again, so it’s not something that hit me by surprise. I enjoy life. There are other things I can do.”
On Monday afternoon, Cardin issued a statement saying “I have run my last election” and stressing the importance of civility in American politics. “I am an optimist but also a realist. I was taught that it’s OK to compromise — don’t ever compromise your principles — but find a path to get things done,” his statement said.
Gov. Wes Moore, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Chesapeake Conservancy, and Democratic members of Maryland’s congressional delegation issued statements praising Cardin’s service.
“He is the epitome of what it means to be a public servant,” said Moore, a Democrat.
Cardin, whose third six-year Senate term ends in January 2025, has emphasized international human rights and assisting Baltimore and the Chesapeake Bay. Last week, he made a push to revive the Equal Right Amendment for women that fell short in the Senate.
He began his political career as a member of the House of Delegates in 1967 while still a law student. Democratic U.S. Rep. Steny Hoyer, 83, who represents Southern Maryland, started in the state Senate the same year, making them the state’s longest-serving elected officials.
U.S. Senate vacancies are rare, and the possibility of replacing Cardin after his retirement has drawn interest already from a number of potential successors. Possible contenders include Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks; U.S. Rep. David Trone, who represents Frederick County and Western Maryland; and Montgomery County Council member Will Jawando.
Each of the three Democrats is serious enough about running that they have begun preparing for the campaign. None would comment Monday out of deference to Cardin since his announcement was still fresh.
Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. and U.S. Rep. Jamie Raskin of Montgomery County also have acknowledged through aides that they are considering bids.
Democrats, who hold a 51-49 majority in the Senate, will try to hang on to control of the chamber in the 2024 elections.
Maryland, which has twice as many Democratic voters as Republicans, has not elected a Republican U.S. senator since Charles Mathias of Frederick in 1980.
Cardin’s home, which he shares with his wife of nearly 59 years, Myrna Edelman Cardin, is in a quiet, tree-filled neighborhood. It’s filled with political memorabilia such as campaign buttons, an old Baltimore ballot box, and photos of the senator, who also previously served in the U.S. House, with a number of U.S. presidents.
After next year, Cardin said he expects to remain involved in some capacity with issues such as human rights and the environment, which have occupied much of his time in Washington.
“It’s just time to exhale,” his wife said. “I’d just like to not have a schedule, a calendar. As Ben says, he can do anything.”
Cardin also released a video in which he and his wife review his political career.
“You were my inspiration,” he said to her as the couple holds hands.
Cardin declined in the interview to endorse a possible successor.
“I know that people are interested. Let’s see who is prepared to do it. I am extremely confident we will hold the seat,” he said of Democrats.
In a sharply partisan congressional era, Cardin, who projects a calm demeanor, has become known for his ability to quietly work with Republicans on policy issues. He lists among his top achievements a 2016 law he championed with John McCain, the late Republican senator from Arizona, to allow the United States to sanction foreign officials who commit human rights violations and ban them from entering the country.
Cardin has been committed not only to aiding Marylanders but “advancing social justice, protecting our environment, and promoting human rights at home and abroad,” said U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen, Cardin’s Democratic colleague from Maryland.
Cardin, who chairs the Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee, said he was announcing his retirement now — with more than 20 months remaining in his term — to allow time for candidates to mount campaigns for the seat.
His retirement could create a ripple effect across some Maryland ballots.
Since he would not be permitted to seek two federal offices simultaneously, a Senate candidacy by Trone, the wealthy owner of the Total Wine & More beverage retailer, would create a vacancy in the 6th Congressional District, one of the most competitive in the state.
Olszewski has expressed interest not only in a potential Senate vacancy but in the 2nd Congressional District seat of Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, 77, if the 11th-term Democratic incumbent does not seek reelection in 2024.
Ruppersberger “has not made any decisions about the next term, nor does he have a timeline to do so,” campaign spokesperson Jaime Lennon said.
Maryland Policy & Politics
Former two-term Republican Gov. Larry Hogan has said multiple times that he’s not interested in the Senate, but that was before Cardin’s retirement decision created an open seat. Hogan has been at odds with former President Donald Trump, who remains popular among many Maryland Republicans. Hogan could not be reached Monday through former aides.
The candidate filing deadline is Feb. 9, 2024, and the primary is scheduled for the following May 14.
Cardin will turn 80 in October, the age that President Joe Biden, also a Democrat, is now.
While the senator is choosing not to run, he said Biden’s decision to seek reelection is the president’s to make.
“There is no age limit on running for office at all,” Cardin said. “He has proven that he could get things done.”
Cardin said he isn’t retiring so much as switching gears.
“I actually think I’d be a good professor, a teacher. I might do some of that,” he said. “I think I’m at the top of my game physically, I really do. But I’m not skiing and I’m not climbing steep cliffs anymore and, as I go down steps, I’m holding on. So things are changing.”