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The Strom Thurmond Watch
Political Junkie
Send your questions about campaigns and elections.

By Ken Rudin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Friday, February 23, 2001

Question: What are the prospects of the Senate, currently tied at 50/50, being taken over by the Democrats if Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.) should have to retire and a replacement is appointed? – Mrs. C. Givens, Jacksonville, Fla.

Answer: If Thurmond cannot complete his term, which expires on Jan. 3, 2003, South Carolina Gov. Jim Hodges, a Democrat, will most likely name a Democrat to succeed him. The 98-year-old Thurmond has had a series of hospital visits in the past year, and many professional Strom watchers are waiting to see how long he can hold up. Of course, waiting for Thurmond to fall has been a full-time occupation for many observers, and he has surprised them all. In 1984, for example, when he was running for reelection, his 44-year-old Democratic opponent, Melvin Purvis, told voters that it was time for a younger man to serve in the Senate, and that Thurmond, at 81, had outlived his usefulness. Well, Thurmond won an overwhelming victory, and Purvis was dead within two years of a heart attack. But that was a long time ago, and the nation's oldest and longest-serving senator has lost a step or three since.

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Thurmond, who has served since 1954, turns 99 in December. (Collection of Ken Rudin)
Republicans who hoped Thurmond would retire in 1996 (when South Carolina had a Republican governor) are now praying that Strom can hold on until 2002, when he will retire and an election will be held to succeed him. But fate has a strange way of playing its hand, so there is no way of knowing what's going to happen. Just in the past year, we witnessed the unexpected deaths of one senator (Paul Coverdell of Georgia) and one aspiring senator (Mel Carnahan of Missouri).

But back to your question. If Thurmond doesn't hold out until the 2002 elections, the governor will all but assuredly make the appointment that gives the Democrats control. The last time a Senate appointment caused a party to lose numerical control came in 1953, when the Democrats went from 47-48 to 48-47. But they did not insist on a vote to reorganize the body, and there was no change in committee chairmanships.

The 1952 elections saw Republicans picking up two Senate seats, giving them a 48-47 advantage; one senator, Oregon's Wayne Morse, left the GOP just before the election to become an independent. Here's a timeline as to what happened next:

    July 24, 1953: Sen. Charles Tobey (R-N.H.) dies. Senate is deadlocked at 47-47, with one vacancy.
    July 31, 1953: Senate Majority Leader Robert Taft (R-Ohio) dies. Dems 47, GOP 46, two Republican vacancies. Morse announces he would vote with the GOP to keep Republicans in control if the matter came up. A tie vote would be broken by Vice President Richard Nixon (R).
    Aug. 14, 1953: N.H. Gov. Hugh Gregg (R) appoints Robert Upton (R) to succeed Tobey; back to 47-47, with one GOP vacancy.
    Oct. 12, 1953: Ohio Gov. Frank Lausche (D) appoints a Democrat, Cleveland Mayor Thomas Burke, to succeed Taft; Dems take numerical control, 48-47.
    April 12, 1954: Sen. Dwight Griswold (R-Neb.) dies, but is soon succeeded by a Republican caretaker appointee. No change.
    May 12, 1954: Sen. Clyde Hoey (D-N.C.) dies, but is soon succeeded by a Democratic appointee. No change.
    June 19, 1954: Sen. Lester Hunt (D-Wyo.) commits suicide. Acting Gov. C.J. Rogers (R) appoints a caretaker Republican, Edward Crippa, to succeed Hunt; GOP regains numerical control, 48-47.
    July 1, 1954: Sen. Hugh Butler (R-Neb.) dies, but is soon succeeded by a Republican caretaker appointee. No change.
    Sept. 1, 1954: Sen. Burnet Maybank (D-S.C.) dies, but is soon succeeded by a Democratic appointee. No change.
    Sept. 28, 1954: Sen. Pat McCarran (D-Nev.) dies. Gov. Charles Russell (R) appoints a Republican, Ernest Brown, to succeed McCarran. GOP control increases to 49-46.
    Election Day, 1954: Democrats have a net gain of two seats, winning Kentucky, Michigan, Nevada, Oregon and Wyoming, while losing Colorado, Iowa, and Ohio. They regain control, 48-47. In February 1955, Oregon's Morse officially became a Democrat, giving them a 49-47 advantage – one they would not cede until the 1980 elections.

Question: At present, the Senate is a 50/50 tie between Democrats and Republicans. How many times has this happened in the past, and how long did each episode last before either an election or the death of a senator who was replaced by a senator of a different party? – Bruce Lilley, Birmingham, Ala.

Answer: There has never been a 50/50 tie in the Senate, or at least not since its membership was increased to 100 following the admittance of Alaska and Hawaii in 1959. The last time the Senate was evenly divided was in 1881, when there were 37 Republicans, 37 Democrats, and two independents. Unlike today's Senate, which has worked out a "power sharing" arrangement, back then there were ugly spats over how to run the place. Most of the attention centered on Roscoe Conkling, a Republican senator from New York. He had been involved in a series of patronage disputes with two Republican presidents, first Rutherford B. Hayes and then James Garfield. In 1881 Conkling, in a show of force, tried to block a Garfield appointee from being confirmed by the Senate. When it appeared that he was going to lose his battle, Conkling, joined by a fellow New York Republican, resigned his seat. They took the drastic gamble to send a message to Garfield, always with the assumption that they would return to the Senate (courtesy of the state legislature, which is how senators were elected back then) stronger than ever. But the two were rebuffed by the legislative leaders in Albany, and didn't make it back to the Senate. In the meantime, the resignations handed majority control to the Democrats, and thus the two-month deadlock was broken. However, the GOP regained control in the 1882 elections.

Question: I noticed in last week's column that Sen. Jean Carnahan's (D-Mo.) term is up in 2002. I was under the belief that she would hold the position for the full term. Why would she serve only two years? – Joel Feuer, Brooklyn, N.Y.

Answer: As you know, Missouri Gov. Mel Carnahan (D), who died last fall during his campaign for the Senate, was posthumously elected over Republican incumbent John Ashcroft. During the final days of the campaign, acting Gov. Roger Wilson (D) announced that should Carnahan win, he would appoint his widow Jean to the seat. Because the winner died, state law mandates that the appointee must stand for election in two years. The winner of the 2002 special election will serve for what would have been the final four years of Mel Carnahan's term.

Question: We Bay Staters are deeply saddened by Rep. Joe Moakley's (D-Mass.) announcement that he will not run again due to leukemia. Aside from the horrible prognosis for one of the most decent human beings around, we also know what his clout on the House Rules Committee has meant for Massachusetts. Who is the next ranking Democrat on the committee? And what is the chance that a Bay Stater will be appointed to Rules when Moakley leaves? (God willing, not before Jan. 2003!) – Sasha Golden, Needham, Mass.

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Only seven House members have more seniority than Moakley. (Collection of Ken Rudin)
Answer: Moakley is a deeply partisan Democrat who is nonetheless a man with admirers across the aisle. Your feelings regarding Moakley's announcement were shared by many on the Hill. He chaired the House Rules Committee from 1989 until the GOP capture of Congress in '94. The next ranking Democrat on Rules is Martin Frost of Texas. As for the possibility of a fellow Bay Stater succeeding him on the committee, it is far too premature to even venture a guess. Democrats only recently completed their process of assigning committee seats for this Congress, a procedure that left some bad feelings and ideological complaints among members. Whether or not illness forces Moakley to retire before his term is up, the Democrats are all but assured of keeping the seat.

Got a question? Ask Ken Rudin: junkie@washingtonpost.com

Ken Rudin, political editor at National Public Radio, is also the creator of washingtonpost.com's ScuttleButton contest.


© Copyright 2001 Ken Rudin


 
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