Things To Act
Thursday, February 05, 2004
 
Musical Seats
Out of nowhere today it suddenly occurred to me to wonder why no one was talking about the fact that Kerry, a sitting senator, has some interesting decisions to make about what to do with his Senate seat after (if?) he wins the nomination (the only thing I could dig up in a couple of minutes of Googling was this, other than this Volokh mention.

A sitting Senator running for the presidency (or vice presidency) is a fairly rare phenomenon, with interesting implications. A potential argument one can make against said Senator is that he doesn't think much of his chances if he's hedging his bets by keeping his safe seat (I seem to recall this being used to tar Lieberman in 2000, and seems to be a factor in Edwards' decision to decline seeking reelection before even coming close to winning the nomination). In addition, the nature of a campaign does not lend itself well to legislative work, so one can complain that the home state is getting shafted because its supposed representative isn't doing his duty (and, if the Hill article linked above can be believed, Republicans may play this up by scheduling key votes to force Kerry to either take a controversial stand or be conspicuously absent) (though on the other hand, he's been effectively AWOL for the entire campaign so far).

Resigning carries its own perils, of course, not least being that defeated Presidential candidates tend to fade away. So let's look at the options and implications:

*Kerry wins the nomination and doesn't resign his Senate seat. Republicans and nervous Democrats make much of this decision, as mentioned above.

*Kerry wins the nomination and resigns his Senate seat. It would be a sign that he's going for broke. It would also enable Governor Romney to appoint a Republican successor. This would have the short-term effect of helping the Republicans in the Senate slightly (it takes one more jittery moderate to derail legislation, one fewer vote to get to cloture, etc), as well as possible electoral implications. Presumably, Kerry would leave enough time that MA would have to put the appointee up for reelection in November--which would put another state in play. If Romney can pick a strong enough candidate, Republicans may be able to either hang on to the seat, or at least force Democrats to spend scarce resources defending it.

Now let's look at the Senate implications. General consensus seems to be that, barring a landslide presidential candidate with significant coattails one way or the other, Republicans should be able to pick up 1-2 seats at least, for a majority of 52-48 or 53-47 (see here to look at the nationwide Senate picture). Putting MA in play could change these dynamics--if a Republican appointee campaigns with incumbent advantage, he could win.

*On the other hand, if Kerry wins the presidency, he must resign his Senate seat upon taking office (at which point Governor Romney's replacement gets to serve until 2006 without a challenge). This opens up some ironic possibilities--for instance, if Democrats do better than expected and net one seat, Kerry's VP could in theory break the tie to let the Dems control the Senate--except that as the VP takes the oath of office, the Dem caucus shrinks to 49, and the Reps keep control after all.

Of course, as long as we're on loony theories, we could speculate that Governor Romney could appoint one of the MA Supreme Court Four, allowing him to appoint a successor there as well, who could then reverse the marriage ruling... But somehow I doubt it.

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