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Obama, Biden Seats in Danger?

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“Some of these things are beyond the candidate’s control,” former Sen. Rudy Boschwitz (R-Minn.) said in a recent interview. “Dynamics come up that are quite beyond you.”

Boschwitz was elected to the Senate in 1978 when he defeated Democrat Wendell Anderson, who had been appointed to fill the vacancy created when then-Sen. Walter Mondale (D-Minn.) was elected Jimmy Carter’s vice president. Republicans netted three seats in the Senate and 15 in the House that cycle, but the appointment became an issue as well.

Anderson had resigned as governor in order to be appointed to Mondale’s seat by the new governor. Self-appointments are rare and can be politically trickier to explain to voters. In Minnesota, Anderson’s maneuver became an issue, the midterm cycle turned against the Democrats and Boschwitz took issue with Anderson’s absenteeism, resulting in a 17-point victory. Boschwitz held the seat until he lost to Democrat Paul Wellstone by two points in 1990.

Historically, appointed Senators who follow a president or vice president into office and then run for a full term have had equal odds of winning or losing in the next election.

Before Anderson in Minnesota, Mondale was appointed to the seat in 1965 when Hubert Humphrey was elected vice president under Johnson. Mondale was elected in his own right in 1966 with 54 percent and served until he was elected vice president.

“The election is a way of ratifying or denying that appointment,” Coats explained. “Ninety percent of Indiana didn’t know who I was, so I thought I better get in front of them.” After his appointment to Quayle’s seat, the former Congressman defeated Democrat Baron Hill with 54 percent in 1990 and was elected to a full term in 1992 with 57 percent.

After Sen. Richard Nixon (R-Calif.) was elected vice president under Dwight Eisenhower in 1952, appointed Sen. Thomas Kuchel was elected to the remainder of Nixon’s term in 1954 and served until 1968.

Along with the Blakley loss in Texas in the 1960s and Anderson’s loss in the 1980s, Democrats lost Harry Truman’s Missouri Senate seat, the only presidential Senate seat to immediately switch party hands in the last century.

Frank Briggs (D) was appointed in Missouri after Truman was elected vice president under Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1944. But when Roosevelt died a few months later, Truman ascended to the presidency. Then in 1946, Briggs lost to James Kem (R), who was known as a staunch Truman opponent. Kem served only one term before he lost re-election to Stuart Symington (D).

Surely, the White House doesn’t want to fuel Republican confidence or give the party a rallying cry by letting Obama’s or Biden’s Senate seat fall into GOP hands.

Republicans lost Vice President Gerald Ford’s Michigan House seat in a February 1974 special election at a time when Nixon’s approval was sagging. The race also foreshadowed larger GOP losses that would come that fall.

Democrat Richard Vander Veen’s special election victory was remarkable since the Grand Rapids-area district hadn’t elected a Democrat since 1912 — and hasn’t elected one again since 1974.

Ford’s seat is one of two House seats that have been vacated by an incoming vice president.

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