Saturday, January 3, 2009

Mr. Obama Shakes Up the Senate, part II

I mentioned in an earlier post that Messrs. Obama and Biden's election, and the president elect's designation of Senators Hillary Clinton and Ken Salazar to cabinet posts presents a challenge to Democratic control over the Senate in the next few years.

As grist for my mill, I might note that Governor Ritter of Colorado has named a relatively unknown person, Michael Bennett, superintendant of the Denver Public School system, to take Mr. Salazar's seat. Outside of school reformist circles, Mr. Bennett is relatively unknown, and in those circles, he's a bit controversial. In other words, if he wants to be reelected in 2010, he'll need to cultivate a strong constituency that will survive a primary challenge or a challenge from the Republicans. If he does not survive a primary challenge, whoever wins the nomination will face a (presumably) stronger Republican party candidate.

On the New York front, it appears that there's some controversy brewing over the choices available to Governor Patterson, especially in light of Caroline Kennedy's non-campaign campaign. The election for that seat is in four years, and whoever is named will therefore have more time to cultivate statewide support.

In Illinois, Governor Blagojevich's appointment of Mr. Burris is fanning flames of controversy that, in my estimation, could quite plausibly deny Illinois a senate seat for most of the next two years. The controversies and ambiguities abound: if the Secretary of State, Jesse White, refuses to certify the results, and the state supreme court refuses to issue a mandamus to require him to do so (and if the US Supreme Court, assuming it properly has any jurisdiction at all in the matter, refuses to overule the state supreme court), then arguably within a few months the state legislature could enact a general election for senator (assuming it could do so over Mr. Blagojevich's veto or presuming that Mr. Blagojevich shall have exited office either by impeachment or resignation); if Mr. Burris's nomination is somehow certified, then the Senate will be placed in a position of having to decide whether to seat the senator-designate, which,it appears so far at least, it won't do; if a new governor takes office or if a general election law is somehow passed, a plausible legal dispute might very well arise over whether a governor's selection can be retroactively invalidated by t he state legislature.

I confess to being ignorant on the status of Delaware (Mr. Biden's home state) in all this mess, although I suspect that seat is probably safely Democratic.

Again, to restate my thesis, it is not uncommon for a sitting president's party to suffer in the first midterm election (it's not an iron law, either: just look at 2002). Mr. Obama's victory and his subsequent selection of two senators for cabinet posts, might contribute to this erosion by putting at least three Democratic seats in jeopardy that otherwise might not be in jeopardy. I make this argument not so much as a criticism of Mr. Obama than as an observation that the next few years will be quite interesting.

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