Sen. Ben Cardin, a Maryland Democrat, plans to announce his retirement from the Senate in the coming days, multiple sources familiar with the matter tell TIME, setting up a potentially crowded and fierce primary fight to succeed him in one of the bluest states in the nation.
Cardin, who has spent the last 36 years in Congress, told his staff last week he was not running for reelection, the sources say. He’s likely to request Senate floor time this week to inform his colleagues and the country about his departure after three terms in the upper chamber, where he became known as a behind-the-scenes workhorse and foreign policy leader, the sources add. Before joining the Senate in 2007, Cardin served for 20 years in the House of Representatives.
The Senator’s office did not respond to a request for comment for this story. (He later confirmed his retirement plans in a video posted online midday Monday.)
The grandson of Russian Jewish immigrants, Cardin has been one of the Democrats’ key players on foreign affairs on Capitol Hill, where he was seen by the left as one of the more hawkish members of his party. He was one of the few Democrats to oppose the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. During the Trump years, he was the ranking member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Since Democrats took back Senate control after the 2020 elections, he has held the gavel as chair of the Senate Small Business Committee.
Cardin’s retirement is expected to trigger a political dogfight in Maryland, where U.S. Senate seats don’t open often. Two of the most recent former Senators—Paul Sarbanes and Barbara Mikulski—served in their seats for 30 years. The prominent state Democrats expected to run for Cardin’s seat include Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks and U.S. Rep. David Trone.
U.S. Rep. Jamie Raskin has also been eyeing a Senate bid. A Democratic star in the House who served on the Jan. 6 Committee last year, Raskin was recently appointed ranking member of the Oversight Committee. Last week, he announced that he has entered remission after chemotherapy treatment following a lymphoma diagnosis last year.
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Cardin, 79, had been expected to retire by much of the Annapolis political class as early as April. A Democratic Maryland source suspects that one reason for a delay has been Cardin’s involvement in an ongoing competition between the Maryland and Virginia congressional delegations to secure the new FBI headquarters.
The race to replace Cardin could take shape quickly, with many of the potential candidates jumping in shortly after Cardin’s announcement. Trone, who made a fortune building the Total Wine and More retail chain, has a history of self-funding his campaigns, potentially putting pressure on other candidates to get their fundraising started quickly. Trone has told associates that he plans to spend as much as $50 million of his own money if he enters the race, according to sources familiar with the matter. Raskin defeated Trone in a primary for Maryland’s Eighth Congressional District after Van Hollen vacated that seat to replace Mikulski.
There may also be a Republican push to recruit former Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan to launch a candidacy. GOP establishment figures, such as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, attempted to convince Hogan to challenge Sen. Chris Van Hollen in 2022, but he declined.
At the same time, there could be a residual effect to Cardin’s announcement if Trone runs for the Senate as expected. That would open up a seat for Maryland’s Sixth District, which could be competitive. Trone, who spent millions of dollars of his own money on his reelection last year, won by nine percentage points. The district was recently redrawn to include swaths of GOP-friendly rural enclaves.
One potential candidate for that seat, Maryland sources say, is Lt. Governor Aruna Miller, who ran against Trone in the 2018 primary and lost. She has since served on the Maryland State Ethics Commission before being sworn in as Gov. Wes Moore’s second in command in January.
Cardin’s retirement will mark the end of an era. The Cardin name has been a staple of Maryland politics for generations. The Senator’s father, Meyer Cardin, served in the Maryland House of Delegates and was later a member of the Baltimore City Supreme Bench. Cardin would later serve in the same legislature as his father, eventually becoming the state’s youngest Speaker of the House of Delegates before making his first run for Congress in 1986.
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