Now that Rudy Giuliani and John Edwards have thrown in their towels, it’s roughly a 3/4 statistical chance that our next president will be a sitting United States senator — the first since John F. Kennedy. And that raises some interesting questions.
Will Clinton, McCain, and/or Obama resign their Senate seat so they can devote their full attention to the race? Or will they keep their office as a “fall-back” position in case they lose?
Jack Kennedy didn’t. He resigned only after the election, so a Kennedy loyalist could be appointed to “keep the seat warm” until 1962, when Teddy would be old enough to hold the seat.
In 1972, Senator George McGovern won the Democratic nomination, and kept his Senate seat while running for president — and suffered one of the biggest landslides in history, winning only Massachusetts and the District of Columbia.
In 1996, Bob Dole challenged Bill Clinton for the presidency. Dole, then the Senate Majority Leader, resigned his seat — largely, it is reported, because Democrats in the Senate kept pulling michief to distract him from campaigning.
In 2004, John Kerry was the Democratic nominee in what was then the longest primary season (now thoroughly eclipsed by the present one). Kerry held his seat, even though he ended up missing nearly every single roll-call vote in the last Senate session. (Given Kerry’s politics, it can be argued that the people of Massachusetts were better served by his absence. But that’s pretty much my “obligatory Massachusetts-bashing” talking. )
Vice-presidential nominees have had even more interesting histories. In 1988 and 2000, sitting Senators held down the lower half of the Democratic tickets. And both men — Lloyd Bentsen and Joe Lieberman — won re-election at the same time they lost the national race.
That shouldn’t happen this time, though. Barack Obama and John McCain’s terms don’t end until 2010, and Hillary Clinton’s until 2012.
But if they get the nomination (and let’s face it — Obama or Clinton WILL be the Democratic nominee, and McCain is the current Republican favorite), should they resign their Senate seat?
One wrinkle is the United States Constitution. By the 12th Amendment, Senate vacancies are filled by appointment by the state’s governor. And with the balance of power in the Senate so close (49-49, with two “independents” who are Democrats in all but name), it is a given that any governor would appoint someone of their own party.
John McCain represents Arizona, and his governor is a Democrat. On the other hand, Hillary Clinton represents New York and Barack Obama Illinois — two states also with Democratic governors, so their departure would not upset the political balance of the Senate.
OK, cheap digs time. I don’t see any of the three Senators giving up their seats. It can be argued that replacing McCain with a Democrat wouldn’t have a great deal of effect — or might not even be noticeable. Hillary Clinton has never offered any consideration for anything but her own political benefit. And Barack Obama has spent pretty much his entire life on the public payroll; he’s not likely to want to give it up and find gainful employment in the private sector (although he could use the experience).
But it’s something that should be considered. A sitting senator has certain obligations, and those tend to get short shrift when the senator is busy campaigning for president. And it says something when a senator keeps their office while barely bothering to show up at it. Hell, under existing law, John Kerry should have had most of his Senate salary docked for blowing off most of the years 2003 and 2004, but no one had the testicular fortitude to push the issue.
It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out — and whether or not it becomes an issue.
I think it should.