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Opinion | How a Simple Twist of Fate Could End Democrats’ Control of the Senate


Opinion | How a Simple Twist of Fate Could End Democrats’ Control of the Senate

But there’s another possibility that should also have the Democrats reaching for the Maalox: A random act of fate could turn the Senate over to the Republicans not next January, but next summer, or next month, or next week. An illness or death could well trigger a political earthquake — by almost instantly switching control of the nation’s top legislative body.

States have a range of laws about replacing a departed senator, but the large majority — 37 — call on the governor to pick a successor. Of those, only seven require the governor to pick someone in the same party. So there are 30 states where the governor can pick whatever new senator he or she wants.

What that adds up to, in practical terms, is that in nine states (as of Jan. 15), a Republican governor has the authority to replace either one or two Democratic senators. If a single Democratic senator in any of those states had to leave office, the Republican governor of that state could appoint a GOP replacement that would immediately give the party a 51-49 Senate majority.

When Glenn Youngkin becomes Virginia’s governor later this month, he will join a group of GOP governors from states with two Democratic senators: Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Maryland, Georgia and Arizona.

Two other states, Ohio and Montana, have one Democratic senator and a Republican governor. (There’s another set of states, of course, with the opposite dynamic: Louisiana, North Carolina, Kentucky and Kansas all have a Democratic governor and two Republican senators; three others, Maine, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, have a single Republican senator with Democratic governors. Of the aforementioned states, only in Maryland, Arizona, North Carolina and Kentucky are the parties assured of holding their seats under state law.)

There was a brief flutter of concern about senatorial succession last January, when 80-year-old Vermont Democrat Pat Leahy went into the hospital. If health forced him out of office, who would Republican governor Phil Scott name? Scott’s about as “un-Republican” a Republican figure as any, and Leahy recovered quickly. But the broader…

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