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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Appointed Senators Often Tank

Nate Silver has an eyebrow-raiser, which makes for an interesting follow-up to J.P.Green’s post yesterday on appointing Republicans to the cabinet so their seats can be filled by Democrats. As Silver explains in his fivethirtyeight.com post, “Appointed Senators Rarely Win Re-Election“:

Over the past 25 Congresses, there have been, by my count, 49 senators who selected by gubernatorial appointment in midterm (this excludes cases where a senator-elect acceded to office a few days early to gain seniority on his colleagues, a once-common courtesy that is becoming less so.) Of those 49 senators, only 19 — fewer than 40 percent — won their subsequent special election. Meanwhile:
* 13 of the 49 (27%) ran for office, but were defeated in the general election;
* 7 of the 49 (14%) ran for office, but were defeated in the primary;
* 10 of the 49 (20%) chose not to seek a permanent term (including one who was prohibited by state law from doing so).
These numbers are far below the usual benchmarks for incumbent senators. Since 1990, about 81% of incumbent senators have sought re-election, and among those have sought it, 88% have won it. By contrast, among the 80% of gubernatorial appointees since 1956 who chose to seek re-election, only 49% survived both the primary and the general election.

Silver provides a well-researched chart covering the 49 appointees, their backgrounds and fate. He also provides some interesting analysis, noting the poor track record of appointments that could be characterized as based more on nepotism and cronyism, than merit and,

By contrast, appointees who had significant recent experience as legislators performed fairly well. In 7 of the 49 cases, the appointee was a sitting member of the House of Representatives; 6 of the 7 won re-election. Seven others were sitting members of their State Legislatures at the time of their appointment; 5 of those 7 won re-election.

He discusses possible reforms, such as a constitutional amendment and some state-enacted reforms you probably didn’t know about, unless you live there:

Alternatively, states can move to solve the problem themselves by passing a “fast” special elections law, as states like Oregon, Wisconsin and Massachusetts now have (and Illinois soon will). Other states have evolved other checks and balances; Utah and Wyoming require that the candidate be selected from among a list prepared by the state party apparatus, while Alaska, Hawaii and Arizona require appointees to be from the same party as the departing senator. Arkansas provides for gubernatorial appointments, but does not allow the appointee to run for re-election.

As Silver concludes, “…More states ought to consider reforms like these. A Senate seat is a [bleeping] valuable thing — too valuable to allow a governor to bypass the voters.”

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