Lisa Blunt Rochester, who turned tragedy into purpose, aims to join historic shortlist of Black female US senators

TheGrio’s “Running Black” election series profiles Black candidates running for office in the 2024 elections. If successful, each candidate profiled could make history in their state. Hear from them in their own words about what’s at stake in their races, for the country, and for Black and brown communities on the political margin.

After serving four terms in the U.S. House of Representatives, Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester, D-Del., is ready for higher office. 

The current Democratic U.S. Senate candidate from Delaware told theGrio she believes she could have a “greater impact” in the upper chamber of Congress. “Democracy is on the line,” Blunt Rochester said of the 2024 elections.

If her campaign is successful, Blunt Rochester would become the first woman, Black person, and person of color to be elected to the U.S. Senate from Delaware. The seasoned public servant said that, if elected to the Senate, she would continue to focus on job growth and the economy, reproductive rights, and strengthening the nation’s health care system, including lowering medical drug prices. 

Blunt Rochester, 62, said she is “proud” of the work she has been able to do as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, where she has served since 2017. She said one of the “highlights” of working in Congress has been “fighting for the passage of both the bipartisan infrastructure law and elements of the Build Back Better Act,” the Inflation Reduction Act.

“We ended up with the greatest investment in climate in the history of this country,” she said of critical investments, which “allowed us to lower costs” for Americans, particularly seniors.

While Blunt Rochester has experienced some victories working in the U.S. House, she also experienced one of Capitol Hill’s darkest moments in U.S. history.

The Democratic lawmaker recounted witnessing the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection when a mob of supporters for former President Donald Trump stormed the U.S. Capitol to prevent the transfer of power from Trump to then-President-elect Joe Biden.

“It was a traumatic day for our country,” she said. “But the fact that we went back in that night and certified the election and did our job also was the most uplifting night for me.”

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Blunt Rochester, who has spent decades committed to serving others, began her political career as an intern and caseworker for then-U.S. Rep. Tom Carper, D-Del., who became the state’s governor and U.S. senator. 

Blunt Rochester later worked as a cabinet member for Governors Carper and Ruth Ann Minner. She notably served as Delaware’s secretary of labor, deputy secretary of health and social services, and state personnel director.

After winning her House race in 2016, Blunt Rochester became the first woman and person of color elected to represent Delaware in Congress.

She told theGrio she was inspired to run for office following her husband’s death in 2014.

“I was a widow, not sure what I was going to do next with my life,” said the congresswoman. “This moment changed everything for me.”

One day, she was in a local grocery store and saw a father with children return a bag of grapes because they cost $9.

“It shook me to my core, and at that moment, I realized people are struggling, but I’m still alive. I can still serve,” she said. “So, I decided to run for Congress.”

WASHINGTON – OCTOBER 20: Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester, D-Del., waits to vote during the third failed vote to elect a new Speaker of the House in the Capitol on Friday, October 20, 2023. (Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)

In 2023, incumbent Senator Carper announced that he would not seek re-election, prompting Blunt Rochester to throw her hat in the race.

On Sept. 10, Blunt Rochester will face off against Democratic candidate Pamela Brown in the Democratic primary to determine who will be on the ballot for the 2024 general election on Nov. 5. She said she believes she is the right person for the job because of her “record of accomplishments that are based on the needs of Delawareans.”

That’s why I’m in the [Congressional] Progressive Caucus, the New Dems, the Women’s Caucus, the Congressional Black Caucus, and an assistant whip,” Blunt Rochester said of her congressional resume.

Blunt Rochester said she has a great rapport with her constituents, so much so that she shares a unique chant with them.

“I yell to the crowd ‘when Lisa goes to Washington,’ then they yell back ‘we all go to Washington,’” she shared. “I want to make sure that all Delawareans are seen and heard and represented. That’s what I’ll continue to do in the Senate.”

If elected, Blunt Rochester would join a shortlist of Black women to serve in the U.S. Senate. Currently, Senator Laphonza Butler, D-Calif, is the only Black woman in the Senate. After the death of Sen. Dianne Feinstein, Butler was appointed by California Gov. Gavin Newsom in October 2023 to temporarily hold the seat until after the general election on Nov. 5. 

There have only been two other Black women to serve in the Senate. Carol Moseley Braun was the first Black woman elected to the U.S. Senate, representing Illinois from 1993 to 1999. Vice President Kamala Harris was the second Black woman to serve in the U.S. Senate, representing California from 2017 to 2021.

“We need to have representation in the Senate,” said Blunt Rochester, who acknowledged, “It is an honor should it happen.”

She added, “It’s also a responsibility that I don’t take lightly because I know others are watching, and it’s a necessity that our voices be heard.”

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TheGrio’s “Running Black” election series features Black candidates running for office in the 2024 elections, with a focus on their potential to make history. Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester, the current Democratic U.S. Senate candidate from Delaware, aims to have a greater impact in Congress and become the first woman, Black person, and person of color elected to the U.S. Senate from Delaware. She highlights her focus on job growth, the economy, reproductive rights, and healthcare. Blunt Rochester has a track record of public service and aims to represent the needs of Delawareans. She was inspired to run for office following her husband’s death and has a strong connection with her constituents. If successful, she would join a small list of Black women who have served in the U.S. Senate, emphasizing the importance of representation in politics. Blunt Rochester is determined to be a voice for her community and make a significant impact if elected to the Senate.

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