Burris, Biden and a Botched Moment

February 19, 2009 4:50 a.m.

When Barack Obama and Joe Biden were elected on Nov. 4, two Democratic governors were given opportunities to replace them.

When Hillary Clinton and Ken Salazar joined the cabinet, two more Democratic governors were given opportunities to make appointments.

When Judd Gregg announced he would join the cabinet, a fifth Democratic governor was given the opportunity to make a Senate appointment.

Fully five percent of the Senate was up for grabs.

The results have been an embarrassment for the Democratic party, easily the most they-can’t-run-a-two-car-parade moment since the Michigan-Florida debacle. The appointments have managed to combine voters’ worst impressions of the Democrats: corruption, racial pandering, and general goofiness.

There are obviously different degrees of botching it with the laughably corrupt Rod Blagjevich’s appointment of the laughably likely corrupt Roland Burris being the worst. David Paterson’s brief exercise in Kennedy lore didn’t exactly distinguish the New York governor. In Delaware, Ruth Ann Miner appointed Ted Kaufman to take Joe Biden’s seat. Kaufman is a long-time aide to the Biden’s and his appointment is seen as a mere placeholder for Beau Biden, the vice president’s son, to run for the seat. Appointing Beau Biden now would have been seen as too crass.

Can you fault John Lynch, New Hampshire’s popular governor, for agreeing, at the request of the White House, to appoint a Republican because that’s what Judd Gregg insisted upon? I wouldn’t cast too many aspersions on Lynch. It was Gregg, after all, who abruptly changed his mind.

Finally, you have to say that the most seamless appointment was Bill Ritter’s tapping Michael Bennet to fill Ken Salazar’s seat in Colorado. I’m friends with Bennet’s brother, James, the Atlantic editor, and I think he’ll be a great senator and has a decent chance of holding on to the seat. You have to give Ritter the highest marks

All said, Democrats were presented with an interesting chance to put a new generation to politicians in play and they handled it in a middling way at best.

By the way, if Obama’s seat goes Republican it’ll be the first time in the 20th century, as best I can tell, that a president will have seen his party lose his seat while he’s in office. Harding’s Republicans held his Senate seat when he was elected president in 1920. Jack Kennedy’s Senate seat stayed in Democratic hands. Vice presidential seats have flipped. Gerald Ford’s house seat went to a Democrat in a special election after he was confirmed as Nixon’s second veep. It would be pretty embarassing for the Republicans to pick up Obama’s senate seat but if in the unlikely event Burris manages to stay in until 2010, can anyone doubt that’s likely? That would be one more legacy of this weird season.

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