U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin says he won’t seek reelection next year, ending a nearly 60-year 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 anticipated 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.”
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 Cardin’s retirement has already drawn interest 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; Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr.; and U.S. Rep. Jamie Raskin of Montgomery County.
Each of those four Democrats declined to comment last week in deference to Cardin, as he had not announced his 2024 plans. But none would rule out running when they or their aides were questioned by The Sun.
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 was interviewed at the home he shares with Myrna, his wife of nearly 59 years. The house, in a quiet, tree-filled neighborhood, is filled with political memorabilia such as campaign buttons, an old Baltimore ballot box, and photos of the senator, who previously also 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 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, 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 would create a vacancy in the 6th Congressional District, one of the most competitive in the state. Aides said Trone, the wealthy owner of the Total Wine & More beverage retailer, would seriously consider running for the Senate if Cardin retired.
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.
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.
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, a Democrat, is now.