For 16 years the same four people had held the four major statewide positions. Because of term limits on the Governor's position Thomas Carper could not run again. Both he and U.S. Representative Michael Castle wanted to be U.S. Senator. Roth would not retire, and fellow Republican Castle decided against a primary.
Roth, 79, was in the U.S. Senate for 30 years. He was the Chairman of the Finance Committee. Carper, 53, was a popular Governor and former U.S. Congressman of Delaware's At-large congressional district, who announced his major candidacy against Roth back in September 1999. Both candidates were moderates. Roth was one of the few Republicans to vote for the Brady Bill. Although Roth started the campaign with a 2-to-1 spending advantage, Carper went into the final month with more than $1 million on hand. In a contest between two popular and respected politicians, the issue seemed to be Roth's age versus Carper's relative youth.
Carper defeated Roth by over ten points. However, Roth received more votes than Presidential candidate George W. Bush, suggesting the strength of the Democratic turnout was a boon to Carper's candidacy and a key element of his victory. Many consider Roth's defeat to be due to his age and health, as he collapsed twice during the campaign, once in the middle of a television interview and once during a campaign event.