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Capitol Hill's calendar is looking fuzzy

Scott Brown and his wife, Gail Huff, navigate a Capitol Hill corridor. The freshman senator from Massachusetts has a prime office -- for now.
Scott Brown and his wife, Gail Huff, navigate a Capitol Hill corridor. The freshman senator from Massachusetts has a prime office -- for now. (Cliff Owen/associated Press)

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By Al Kamen
Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The stakes are high this November. The Republicans are looking to retake the House. (Ah, the subpoenas, the subpoenas.) They need to pick up 39 seats.

They also have a shot at taking the Senate, where they need to pick up 10 seats. And they may be able to make inroads on the Democrats' numbers there even before the new Congress convenes in January.

That's because five seats up for grabs are now held by unelected folks appointed by their state governors. Four of the seats were vacated by senators who went to the executive branch -- to be president, vice president, secretary of state and secretary of the interior -- and one senator, Mel Martinez (R-Fla.), retired.

While each Senate seat is important, some may be more valuable than the others. Depending on how somewhat opaque state laws are interpreted, winners might be able to take office shortly after the election results are in on Nov. 2, rather than waiting until the new Congress convenes Jan. 3.

One is the old Joe Biden seat, now held by Biden's former chief of staff, Ted Kaufman (D-Del.), who was appointed and is not running for election.

If, as appears likely now, Rep. Mike Castle (R) wins that race, he will be sworn in when the Senate comes back into its unavoidable lame-duck session after the election. Thus the Democrats would immediately be down to 58. (Biden may have to swear Castle in, something of a rarity, although Al Gore did the honors as vice president when Republican Fred Thompson won Gore's Senate seat.)

Another possibility is the former Hillary Clinton seat now held by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), who was also appointed to fill in until the November election. Although Gillibrand is seen as a solid bet to win, if she doesn't, then we're told her Republican opponent, depending on how state law is interpreted, might become a senator as soon as the dust settles on Nov. 3.

Early arrivers would garner two months more seniority than other members of their class. That may not seem like much, but every day of seniority is critical in the Senate. (Just ask Republican Sens. Richard Lugar of Indiana and Orrin Hatch of Utah, who have long debated who's on first -- but we're not going down that road again.)

Though seniority doesn't govern office assignments, it does cover important matters such as committee assignments -- not just now but throughout a senator's oft-lengthy career. It can determine, in the long run, when you'll get that committee chairmanship or that coveted seat on the Appropriations Committee.

In the short run, it means you might soon be in line for a chairmanship on an important subcommittee, which turn could enable you to lead -- and take your beleaguered spouse on -- a Senate junket to find those elusive facts, especially the facts that have a tendency to migrate to warmer climes in winter and cooler places in summer.

Location, location . . .

Speaking of Senate office space, Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) has, since his stunning victory in January, enjoyed one of the most prized offices on the Hill, the one once used by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D), whose seat Brown took.

The spacious corner office on the third floor of the historic Russell Senate Office Building has a marble fireplace, sconces and other fine touches, we're told, in addition to those 15-feet ceilings.


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