- The Washington Times - Monday, August 7, 2000

Delaware Gov. Thomas R. Carper's bid this year to unseat Republican Sen. William V. Roth Jr. could be one of the most interesting elections in the nation.

In a state smaller than most congressional districts, two of its most popular men are pitted in a political clash of titans.

Millions will be spent by the opponents and outside groups.

But one of the single most important issues age probably will never be mentioned directly by either Mr. Roth, 79, or Mr. Carper, 53.

Mr. Carper, who has never lost an election, will talk of his ability to focus on the "day-to-day concerns" of the average Delaware voter and of the need to look to the "future."

Speaking almost as obliquely, Sen. Robert G. Torricelli of New Jersey, chairman of the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee, says "there is a feeling that [Mr. Roth's time in office] has come to an end."

In turn, Mr. Roth will not make much mention of Mr. Carper, instead stressing his 30 years' experience in the Senate and his seniority and power as chairman of the Senate's tax-writing committee.

"We are going to be campaigning based upon Bill Roth's accomplishments," says Joanne Barnhart, spokeswoman for Mr. Roth.

The closest either candidate will come to mentioning age will be a relentless, but soft-spoken, challenge from Mr. Carper to Mr. Roth to debate. So far, Mr. Roth has demurred, contending that his work in Washington will occupy his time until fall, but the issue will remain.

The race is important on a number of levels.

Mr. Roth has had a substantial impact on the taxation of individual retirement accounts and has been a constant voice in the matters of trade.

Delaware, one of just eight states with only one representative, could see the power of its delegation decline enormously.

Control of the Senate, now down to a 54-46 Republican-to-Democrat split, could hinge on the outcome.

And businesses, which have had a friend in Mr. Roth, could find themselves with the more agriculture-minded Sen. Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican or even Sen. Max Baucus, Montana Democrat, if Democrats take control in charge of the Senate Finance Committee.

In many respects, Mr. Roth and Mr. Carper are similar.

Mr. Roth was born in Montana, served in the Army during World War II, moved to Delaware to work for a chemical company and became active in politics. He served two terms in the U.S. House and began his first of five terms in the U.S. Senate in 1970.

Mr. Carper was born in Virginia, served in the Navy as a flight officer during Vietnam and earned a master's degree in business administration from the University of Delaware. He served three two-year terms as the state's treasurer, was elected to five terms in the U.S. House, and is finishing the second of two four-year terms as governor.

Both enjoy the benefits of state-wide office. In July, Mr. Roth won credit in the press for a $1 million canal project in Lewes County, but he had to share the paper with Mr. Carper's announcement of an 18,000-acre plot set aside for farm preservation.

Both are tax-cutting centrists. Both are pro-environment, Mr. Roth even thwarting fellow Republican efforts to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil exploration.

The two differ on abortion. Mr. Carper supports abortion rights, while Mr. Roth opposes abortions.

The two also disagree on campaign finance reform, with Mr. Roth steadfastly opposing the broad-based bill backed former presidential candidate Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican.

Mr. Roth grabbed the national spotlight with hearings on the Internal Revenue Service and as creator of the Roth IRA. But Mr. Carper has presided over the state during an economic boom, which added 50,000 jobs to the economy and helped shrink welfare rolls.

But most importantly, both men are wildly popular, enjoying a nearly 75 percent job approval rating.

Rep. Michael N. Castle, Delaware Republican, says that popularity is well-founded. Both men have proven their ability to govern, shown they can work in a nonpartisan way to find broad-based legislative solutions, and are genuinely personally likable, Mr. Castle said.

In part, their successes are a result of the peculiarities of the state.

About 750,000 live in a state 96 miles long and 39 miles wide. Nearly two-thirds of its population lives around one city, Wilmington, itself sandwiched near Baltimore, Philadelphia and the southern shore of New Jersey.

The state's laissez-faire attitude to businesses has made it the titular headquarters of many of the nation's corporations. It is also home to mammoth poultry farms and the chemical giant DuPont.

But despite Delaware's relative affluence, the state still has pockets of poverty. While a median family income of about $42,000 puts it eighth in the nation, it also beats the national average for teen and unwed mothers and has a slightly higher rate of HIV infection than the national average.

Because of its small size and diversity, the state has a decidedly two-party history. Control of the governorship switches regularly and while Republicans control the House, Democrats control the Senate.

Candidates for statewide office visit the state's three counties on the day they begin their campaigns and then on the day after the election, victor and loser tour the counties again, together.

So Delawareans are torn by this year's contest.

Through the winter, Mr. Carper led Mr. Roth in the polls, but by May Mr. Roth had closed the gap to a statistical dead heat.

On the other hand, while Mr. Roth has raised nearly $2.8 million to Mr. Carper's $1.5 million, nearly 60 percent of Mr. Roth's money has come from out of state and Mr. Carper's war chest is gaining, according to the Center for Responsible Politics.

"The bottom line is and the candidates may not want to hear this for the people of Delaware [the election] is a win-win situation," Mr. Castle said.

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