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Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) is not a regular on the Sunday talk shows. But he could be one of the most important lawmakers in the Democrats’ effort to pass healthcare reform.  

Even though Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) persuaded all members of his caucus to vote for the motion to proceed on healthcare reform, he knows his opt-out public option does not have the votes to pass.  

Reid, a shrewd politician, has asked Carper to work with Sens. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Mary Landrieu (D-La.) on “a public option that’s acceptable.”  

Carper recently floated a plan that would establish a public insurance plan only in states that don’t meet certain yet-to-be-defined criteria.  

Liberal senators may shun Carper’s plan because it is too similar to the “trigger” public option proposal favored by Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine).  

But if a deal is struck that attracts 60 votes, Carper will probably be at the table.  

Carper knows Washington politics and the art of compromise. He was elected to the House in 1982, successfully ran for governor in 1993 and became Delaware’s junior senator in 2001.  

For years, Joe Biden attracted the spotlight on Capitol Hill as Delaware’s senior senator. As vice president, Biden is working hard so that his boss in the White House signs healthcare reform during the 111th Congress.  

Yet Carper could hold the key to making that happen.  

If Carper is ultimately successful, he’s not the type to gloat in front of the cameras. He’ll probably just move on to his next goal of passing climate change legislation.  

The new senior senator from Delaware is a legislator’s legislator. Keep your eyes on him in the weeks ahead.