DeMint departure kicks off Senate resignation guessing game

Chris Cillizza
Reporter December 9, 2012

The resignation last week of Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) not only shocked the political world but, just one month removed from the 2012 election, formally kicked off chatter about the 2014 landscape.

That conversation begins with a look at who might follow DeMint out the door between now and the next election. To be clear, resignations are few and far between, but a look at the Senate class up in 2014 suggests we could well see a number of open seats — particularly on the Democratic side.

Chris Cillizza writes “The Fix,” a politics blog for the Washington Post. He also covers the White House. View Archive

Below is the Fix’s first cut at potential retirements in both parties — a list compiled from conversations with Senate strategists, public statements from the senators and assessments of their political outlook in 2014.

To be clear: No one on this list has said he is planning to retire. Typically, the majority of those around whom retirement speculation swirls for extended periods of time do tend to bow out. But, every election features surprises — those who are expected to say sayonara stick around and one or two who didn’t seem to even be a remote retirement possibility decides to leave.

Caveats dispatched, let’s get to the list.

Democrats

●Dick Durbin (Ill.): Opinion is deeply divided on what the Illinois senator does next. There are those who argue he will run again in order to serve all the way through President Obama’s second term since he and his former junior colleague have a close relationship. There are others who note that Durbin’s hopes of beating out Sen. Chuck Schumer (N.Y.) as the next Senate Democratic leader are dwindling, and that could hasten his exit. Durbin has said he hasn’t made up his mind on running again, but if he does, his $2 million-plus in the bank and the state’s Democratic lean make him a clear favorite.

●Tom Harkin (Iowa): Harkin is up for a sixth term in 2014 and has resisted making any public pronouncements about his plans. With Democrats retaining control of the Senate last month, Harkin retains his chairmanship of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) committee, which could keep him interested in sticking around. Even if Harkin does stay, Rep. Steve King (R) is making noise about seeking the seat in what would be a very high-profile race.

●Tim Johnson (S.D.): Last week, in the wake of the news that popular former South Dakota Gov. Mike Rounds (R) would run for the Senate, Johnson (D) equivocated on his own plans. “If I run again, I will run a strong campaign,” he told South Dakota reporters. “But only if I run again, and it’s far too soon to make that statement.” Johnson suffered bleeding on the brain in 2006 and has been slowed since. If he chooses not to run, Democrats are likely to turn to former representative Stephanie Herseth Sandlin.

●Frank Lautenberg (N.J.): If he stands for reelection in 2014, he will be 90 years old. But, there’s little outward sign he plans to step aside. “I’m going to stay as long as the job is not done completely,” Lautenberg told the Bergen Record’s Herb Jackson back in April. Due to his advanced age, however, Lautenberg has a permanent place on retirement watch until he makes his plans crystal clear. If he bows out, Newark Mayor Cory Booker, a national star in search of a next step politically, likely runs and would be a clear favorite.

●Carl Levin (Mich.): Levin has said he won’t make any announcement on whether he will seek a seventh term until 2013. But, Levin will be 80 if he stands for reelection in 2014, and ended September with less than $300,000 in the bank. Of course, Levin was the subject of retirement rumors in 2008, ignored them and cruised to victory. If he does step aside, there will be crowded primaries in both parties, although the state’s Democratic lean makes it more likely than not that Levin’s seat won’t flip.

●Jay Rockefeller (W.Va.): In the wake of Rep. Shelley Moore Capito’s (R-W.Va.) announcement late last month that she would seek the Senate seat held by Rockefeller, the West Virginia Democrat offered this response: “Politics can wait.” That was less than encouraging for those Democratic Party strategists who were hoping for a stronger statement. Rockefeller is likely to wait and see if Capito faces a conservative challenge — as has been rumored — in the GOP primary before making any final decision.

Republicans

●Thad Cochran (Miss.): Every six years Cochran starts off on these sorts of retirement lists and every six years he winds up running for reelection and winning. Cochran will be 76 on Election Day 2014 and Republicans’ failure to win back the majority last month means two more years serving in the minority party. Cochran had less than $350,000 in the bank at the end of September, but given his political strength, the state’s strong Republican lean and the lack of a serious Democratic opponent on the horizon, he probably doesn’t need much money.

●Mike Enzi (Wyo.): Like Cochran, Enzi faces two more years (at least) of waiting if he wants to become chairman of a Senate committee. He’s currently the ranking minority member on the HELP committee. “I’m running hard,” Enzi told Politico late last month. Of course, all politicians are running hard up to the moment they decide they aren’t running anymore. If Enzi steps aside, expect lots of chatter about the possibility of Liz Cheney, the daughter of the former vice president, seeking the seat.

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