In a column for Politico, longtime political analyst Jeff Greenfield explained that a combination of state laws and fate could combine to hand control of the Senate to Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) before a single vote is cast in the 2022 midterms.
With election experts predicting control of the House could easily flip to the GOP in November, the tenuous nature of the Senate where the chamber is split 50-50 could hold with several Republican-held seats — particularly in North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — facing a flip of their own.
However, as Greenfield notes, “the end of Democratic control could also come earlier. Much earlier.”
Beyond the intransigence of Sens Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) who have held up President Joe Biden’s agenda, is the threat that a Democrat Senator in a certain states with Republican governors could step down or even pass away leaving their seat open.
According to Greenfield, “there’s another possibility that should also have the Democrats reaching for the Maalox: A random act of fate could turn the Senate over to the Republicans not next January, but next summer, or next month, or next week. An illness or death could well trigger a political earthquake — by almost instantly switching control of the nation’s top legislative body.”
“States have a range of laws about replacing a departed senator, but the large majority — 37 — call on the governor to pick a successor. Of those, only seven require the governor to pick someone in the same party. So there are 30 states where the governor can pick whatever new senator he or she wants,” he wrote before adding, “What that adds up to, in practical terms, is that in nine states (as of Jan. 15), a Republican governor has the authority to replace either one or two Democratic senators. If a single Democratic senator in any of those states had to leave office, the Republican governor of that state could appoint a GOP replacement that would immediately give the party a 51-49 Senate majority.”
According to the analyst, Virginia, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Maryland, Georgia and Arizona fall into that category with a Republican governor at the helm and Democrats holding Senate seats.
Greenfield added, “It might seem morbid to think too concretely about what happens when a senator dies or is compelled by illness to leave office. But in a way it’s irresponsible not to. While only three senators have died in office in the last decade, the actuarial reality — 26 senators are 70 years old or more — deserves attention.”
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