Clinton, Hutchison and Feinstein May Set Off High-Profile Senate Races

(By Tim Roske -- Associated Press)
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By Chris Cillizza And Paul Kane
Monday, November 17, 2008

It's a rarity that even one of the largest states in the country sees an unexpected opening in one of its major elected offices. But there is a real possibility that, in 2010, a trio of big states -- New York, California and Texas -- could have serious contests thanks to the current officeholders running for or being appointed to other posts.

The highest-profile potential opening is in New York, where Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D) appears to be on President-elect Barack Obama's shortlist for secretary of state. If Clinton becomes Obama's top diplomat, the task of selecting her replacement will fall to Gov. David A. Paterson, who took office when fellow Democrat Eliot Spitzer resigned.

Among those mentioned as possible replacements for Clinton are Reps. Nita Lowey and Gregory Meeks as well as state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo and even Paterson. An appointed senator in Clinton's seat would have to run in 2010 in a special election to serve the final two years of her term.

In Texas, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R) appears ready to pull the trigger on a long-awaited run for governor, a move that would set up a contested primary fight with Gov. Rick Perry (R).

Hutchison, who is not up for reelection until 2012, would not be required to resign her Senate seat (Lyndon Johnson ensured that he could run for president/vice president and keep his Senate seat as a backup plan if the Democratic ticket lost), but conventional wisdom in the state is that she would step aside.

Perry would then be tasked with appointing a successor and scheduling a special election for approximately two months later. Because no current officeholder would have to resign to run for the Senate, the race could be extremely crowded, with Reps. Joe Barton, Kay Granger and Jeb Hensarling and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst seen as possible Republican candidates and former lieutenant governor John Sharp and Houston Mayor Bill White mentioned on the Democratic side.

Then there is California, where Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D) is mulling over a race for governor when that office comes open in 2010. A recent Field poll showed Feinstein as the best-known candidate in the Democratic field -- not an insignificant factor in such a big state, where campaigns are costly. Feinstein has said she will make up her mind early next year; until then, the Democratic field is likely to be frozen.

Among the many names mentioned for the governor's mansion on the Democratic side are Lt. Gov. John Garamendi, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. State Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner is the current favorite on the Republican side, although businesswomen Carly Fiorina and Meg Whitman are also mentioned.

A Different Feather

Indicted the day before on seven felony counts, Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) returned to the Senate on July 30 to well wishes from Democrats and Republicans alike. None of those lawmakers was more heartbroken than Stevens's longtime friend Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.), who has served with the Alaskan for four decades on the Appropriations Committee.

"Say it ain't so," Byrd, 90, in a wheelchair, bellowed as he clasped Stevens's hand.

More than three months later, Stevens, 84, could be saying the same thing to a virtual namesake of his good friend.

After being found guilty last month of failing to disclose more than $250,000 in gifts, Stevens -- the longest-serving Republican in Senate history -- returned to Alaska for a one-week campaign to keep his seat. His biggest obstacles appeared to be a potential prison sentence and his Democratic opponent, Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich.

Little did he know that one Bob Bird, the nominee of the conservative Alaska Independence Party, would stand in his way by grabbing 4 percent of the vote.

When a majority of votes were counted on Election Day, Stevens held a 3,200-vote lead. Last week, after 70,000 more votes were tallied, Begich pulled ahead by more than 1,000 votes, with fewer than 30,000 remaining to be counted Tuesday.

Bird -- running a conservative antiabortion, pro-gun-rights campaign -- has collected 12,144 votes. Bird may end up being the most important third-party candidate in the 2008 race, possibly more so than Minnesota's Dean Barkley, who took 15 percent of the vote but appears to have taken roughly even amounts from Republican Sen. Norm Coleman and Democratic challenger Al Franken.

Bird's support almost certainly came from conservatives who never would have voted for Begich. This Bob Bird, as a critic of the pork-barreling Stevens, is nothing like Robert C. Byrd-with-a-y. Bird, a 57-year-old native of Illinois, moved to Alaska in 1977 and has been a high school social studies teacher ever since, as well as a radio broadcaster for the Peninsula Oilers of the Alaska Baseball League.

A supporter of Pat Buchanan's third-party presidential bids in 1996 and 2000, Bird also ran as a Republican in the 1990 primary against Stevens, taking 30 percent of the vote.

Eighteen years later, Bird has taken far less of the vote from Stevens, but he may have delivered a fatal blow to his almost-namesake's good friend.

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