Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) announced Monday that he will not seek reelection in 2024, bringing his half-century career in public office to a close once he finishes his term — and likely creating a frenzied race to fill his shoes in a high-stakes presidential election year.
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Cardin, 79, made the announcement in a video appearance alongside his wife, Myrna, while reflecting on his long tenure in public office.
“Thank you, Marylanders,” he said. “Thank you for giving me the opportunity of my life to represent you in the United States Senate. I’ve given my heart and soul in trying to do my best.”
Cardin said in an interview with The Washington Post that while colleagues in Maryland and across the country had encouraged him to stay, he made the decision on his own terms. He said he wanted to prioritize being with his family after spending almost his entire adult life in public office. If he won another term, he would be 87 by the time it ended — a factor that weighed heavily in his decision.
“It’s not a retirement,” he said, noting that he plans to continue finding other ways to help the state. “It’s a realization that, to sign up for eight more years at this stage, to think about the fact that I’ve given so many years to public service — it’s been the honor of my life, I’ve loved every minute of it — but it’d be nice for me to predict my own schedule moving forward, have more time with my family and set my priorities. When you’re in the Senate you don’t always have that ability.”
Cardin has been a fixture in Maryland politics for decades, building a reputation as a serious, reserved legislator who gravitates toward complex policy issues and avoids the kind of show-horse politicking of some of his peers. His retirement is likely to create a highly competitive Democratic primary, coming in a year when control of the Senate is on the line and the potential of Donald Trump returning to the White House has heightened the stakes for Democrats — even in blue states like Maryland.
Maryland Republicans have not won a Senate seat since the 1980s. But Democrats, wary of the potential of a Larry Hogan-esque moderate Republican emerging as a GOP nominee, aren’t taking anything for granted. They will have a tall task in putting forth a nominee in place of Cardin, who has served in the Senate since 2007 and who has comfortably won reelection in every race since.
Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in a statement that he is “confident Democrats will retain his seat,” while reflecting on Cardin’s long tenure.
“He is one of my dearest friends in the U.S. Senate and someone I’ve always admired for favoring substance over flash, for digging deeply into issues, and for his ability time and again to persuade his colleagues of the justice of his causes, often working across the aisle to turn his ideas into successful legislation,” Schumer said.
Cardin began his career in the Maryland General Assembly in the 1960s, running his first campaign while he was still in law school in 1966, before climbing the ranks to House speaker in 1979. Public service ran in the family. A third-generation Marylander from Baltimore and the grandson of Russian Jewish immigrants, Cardin filled the seat in the State House vacated by his uncle and was the son of a state lawmaker who became a judge.
Sent by voters to the U.S. House in 1986, Cardin developed a repertoire fit for a policy wonk, digging into the type of fiscal issues that may not be ripe for campaign ad sound bites but have tangible impact on millions of people, such as pension reform and retirement security, expanding health care and broadening access to capital in underserved communities to help small businesses. “You gave up a lot of dinners so I could get my retirement bills accomplished,” Cardin said to his wife in the video.
Then-Sen. Barack Obama at a 2006 rally for Cardin, who was running for Senate. (Susan Biddle/The Washington Post)
Former president Bill Clinton with Cardin as a Senate candidate in 2006. (Bill O’Leary/The Washington Post)
The most senior federal lawmaker in the Maryland delegation, Cardin has also quarterbacked statewide priorities such as protecting the Chesapeake Bay, while hoping to broaden national clean air and water environmental initiatives. And as chairman of the U.S. Helsinki Commission and a senior member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he’s worked across the aisle on foreign policy and international human rights issues as well, combating antisemitism and discrimination abroad and at home — including most recently leading the push for the Equal Rights Amendment.
Though that vote failed in the Senate last week, the sheer breadth of his tenure as an elected representative was on display: Five decades earlier, he had voted to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment as a member of the Maryland House.
His Jewish faith has been central to both his family life and work in public office, something he said Monday guided many of his efforts — especially on human rights and the environment and protecting the bay. Myrna Cardin invoked the Jewish principle tikkun olam — “repairing the world,” she said. “We use it a lot. It’s in our DNA. And I love the way you’ve taken that from our family to Annapolis to Washington. It undergirds so much of what you do.”
That guiding principle, he said, “gave me the ability to say that we can make our foreign policy stronger based upon our values.” He pointed especially to the Global Magnitsky Act, a major law he worked on with Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) to sanction foreign officials who commit international human rights violations.
Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.), who began serving in the Maryland General Assembly at the same time as Cardin in 1967, called Cardin his best friend and the “most able legislator I have had the pleasure of serving alongside” — in both Congress and the State House. “His retirement will be a loss for Maryland and our nation,” he wrote on Twitter.
Maryland Gov. Wes Moore (D) called Cardin “the epitome of what it means to be a public servant,” while Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) said Cardin’s work “has not only made our nation a better place — it has gone far beyond our borders to make the world a better place.”
“Senator Cardin has dedicated more than five decades to helping Marylanders from the state house — as the youngest Speaker in our state’s history at the time — to the halls of Congress, now as Chairman of the Senate Small Business Committee,” Van Hollen said. “Senator Cardin has made it his life’s work to champion the rights of Marylanders and open the doors of opportunity to more Americans.”
Cardin with his wife, Myrna, in 2006. (Melina Mara/The Washington Post)
Though Cardin has not necessarily been fond of year-round campaigning, signs of a potential retirement peeked out in his anemic campaign finance reports in the most recent quarters. Anticipating the possibility of Cardin’s retirement, a number of Democrats have already begun exploring potential runs for his seat, including Rep. David Trone (Md.), Prince George’s County Executive Angela D. Alsobrooks and Montgomery County Council member Will Jawando (At Large), according to multiple people familiar with their plans. Baltimore County Executive John “Johnny O” Olszewski Jr. did not rule out a potential run when reached Monday, but said for now he was focused on celebrating Cardin — especially the Baltimorean’s work for Baltimore County.
Rep. Jamie B. Raskin (D-Md.), whose national profile has soared after he led arguments in former president Donald Trump’s impeachment trial over the Jan. 6, 2021, riot, has also been floated as a potential contender, considering his popularity among liberals. But Raskin is still recovering from cancer treatment, and was only just this Congress elevated in the House to a coveted leadership position as the top Democrat on the House Oversight Committee. He has previously told Politico that while he had not ruled out a run, he was focused on his health for the time being; a spokesman on Monday pointed to his statement congratulating Cardin in response to questions.
“After 58 years of integrity-filled public service, where he showed his prodigious work ethic from Annapolis to Washington, Senator Ben Cardin has assembled a remarkable record of advancing the needs and priorities of Maryland,” Raskin said. “I salute him and have congratulated him on a truly amazing and inspiring career devoted to service of our people and the old-fashioned public values of honesty and decency.”
Trone previously competed against Raskin in a high-octane Democratic primary for an open seat in Maryland’s 8th Congressional District, which Raskin won in 2016 despite Trone spending millions of his personal fortune in the race. Trone won his seat in Western Maryland’s 6th District the next campaign cycle, and his huge campaign chest and ability to self-fund have been formidable to potential challengers since then. Should he move forward with a Senate bid, he could be expected to similarly put up big money.
“There’s only one Ben Cardin, and we’ll all miss his leadership,” Trone said on Twitter. “I join my colleagues and the people of Maryland in congratulating him and celebrating all he’s done for us.”
Alsobrooks, Prince George’s former top prosecutor, has been a rising star within the Democratic Party in Maryland after first being elected county executive in 2018. Her challenge would be expanding her appeal statewide, as would Jawando’s.
A spokeswoman for Alsobrooks declined to comment. In response to questions, a spokesman for Jawando sent a statement praising Cardin.
On the Republican end, Hogan has been Democrats’ most feared potential contender, considering he won two terms as governor in the blue state. But there’s no indication that Hogan intends to run, having rebuffed advances from top party officials urging him to seek the seat in 2022. In response to a request for comment Monday, Hogan spokesman David Weinman responded with a link to a March article in Politico headlined, “Top Republicans are trying to woo Larry Hogan (again). He’s still not interested.”
Cardin said he was feeling comfortable about Democrats’ bid to keep the seat in 2024. “I’m not worried at all. This is a presidential election year. This is an election where control of the Senate is at stake. Maryland will go deep blue,” he said.
He said that for now he did not intend to make an endorsement in the Democratic primary, but would reconsider if others felt it was important for party unity.
In the meantime, Cardin will remain the state’s senior senator until his term ends in 2025, giving him a year and a half to finish up major priorities. Most pressingly, that includes bringing the FBI headquarters to Prince George’s County — something he and other Maryland leaders, including Alsobrooks, have doggedly pursued. Cardin also chairs the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee, where he has prioritized aiding minority-owned and women-owned small businesses.
Mostly, he said, he was looking forward to enjoying more of everyday life with Myrna, without running to and from the Hill. They have been married 60 years. He’s been in office or campaigning for nearly 58 of them.
“Having dinner at a reasonable time with Myrna will be a luxury now,” he said.