Posted: April 28, 2016


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

Tom Carper's inner Donna Summer escaped at the worst possible time.

His disco-queen alter ego materialized while Carper, the Democratic senator, was speaking at a rally for Hillary Clinton on Monday, the day before the presidential primary here in Delaware.

This Donna-Summer-in-Tom-Carper-clothing spouted the lyrics to "She Works Hard for the Money" and gamely tried to draw the crowd into some sort of toneless sing-a-long to lionize Clinton -- "we're going to treat her right!" -- and afterwards, there was no calling this monstrosity back.

It left the stage of The Queen in Wilmington, where the rally was, in a flash and winged its way into the national media, including a write-up in the New York Times and a video clip on MSNBC, and then it was on to a killer impression by Jimmy Fallon on "The Tonight Show."

Donna Summer, entombed in Tom Carper's body, the singer channeled by a suit. It was like watching the Tin Woodman trying to bust a move:

That was nothing, though. The rest of the country does not know the half of it. Carper has been doing oddball stuff for years.

Take the last time Carper ran for re-election to the Senate in 2012, when he was being harassed by Alex Pires, a minor-party candidate much better known as the lawyer who owns the Bottle & Cork, the destination nightspot in Dewey Beach.

Pires kept calling Carper unwell, too secretly sick to make it through another six-year term as a senator, so what did Carper do?

He climbed onto a banquet table at a Democratic political dinner in Felton and did 30 pushups. At least he kept his shirt on.

Years ago, there might also have been a little foreshadowing of Carper's thing for Donna Summer.

It was 1995, and Carper was the governor. Before that, though, he was a congressman, and one of his colleagues was Bob Dornan, known as "B-1 Bob," an outspoken defense hawk who was a very rightwing Republican from California.

Dornan was running for president, and he was on a whistle-stop tour when his train pulled into Wilmington. Outside on the platform, there was a man in drag, wearing a wig and makeup and looking very pregnant.

He was also holding up a little sign that read, "Dornan's the One."

It was Carper. He got on the train and called out in a high, campy voice, "Hi, Bobby!"

After a shell-shocked moment or two, Dornan recognized him, and it was a great laugh. The whole setup was actually a masterpiece of coincidence. Carper was dressed for a skit being videotaped for the First State Gridiron, the annual political roast, when Dornan's campaign came through and Carper decided to play a prank on him.

What a shame there was no YouTube back then. There sure is now.

Tom Carper. Worked hard to be funny. But it turned out to be a fright.