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With the retirement of Sen. Evan Bayh (Ind.), every Democratic presidential hopeful from 2008 will have exited the Senate by the time the 112th Congress convenes in January and theyll have taken an abundance of experience and star power with them.
Bayh joins a group of veteran Democratic and Republican Senators, many longtime elected officials, who are set to end their Congressional careers at the end of the term. All told, those departures as well as the death last year of Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) will leave the chamber less 232 years of legislative know-how and Washington gravitas that has characterized Capitol Hill for a generation.
Given the political volatility of the election cycle, the Senate makeover could be even more extreme come Nov. 2. And while current and former Senate aides from both parties agree it will take time for junior Members to find their sea legs, they say the chamber will continue to drive Congress legislative agenda and that new crop of dynamos will rise.
The diminished star power is easily overcome. Younger Members will in time become the new faces of the institution, and if anything it eliminates some distractions and unnecessary drama when there are fewer celebrity Senators, a senior Democratic Senate aide said. The more notable trend is just that the Senator is getting younger, and as that happens, the traditions and customs of the Senate that used to pave the way for bipartisanship are observed less and less.
The exodus began in the aftermath of the 2008 elections and was a product of the Democrats overwhelming success that year. Barack Obama gave up his Illinois Senate seat to take the oath of office as president, with 36-year Senate veteran Joseph Biden (Del.), a presidential hopeful that year himself, following his new boss to become vice president.
President Obama recruited then-Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.), his top rival in the Democratic presidential primary, to run the State Department. He also hired away then-Sen. Ken Salazar (Colo.) to lead Interior. A year later, another 2008 White House aspirant, Sen. Chris Dodd (Conn.), facing a serious climb to re-election, announced he would retire at the end of his term after 30 years.
Bayh, who abandoned plans to run for president in 2008 during the early stages of a campaign that never formally launched, announced his intention last week to leave the Senate next year, when his second term is up. Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.), who didnt run for president, is retiring after 18 years. Additionally, four GOP Senators are calling it quits, while one Republican, Mel Martinez (Fla.), resigned his seat last summer.
Among those leaving are three former governors: Republican Sens. Judd Gregg (N.H.) after 18 years, Kit Bond (Mo.) after 24 years and George Voinovich (Ohio) after 12 years. Sen. Jim Bunning (R-Ky.), a former Major League Baseball pitcher and member of the Hall of Fame, also is giving up his seat after two terms.
One GOP lobbyist said the combination of Democratic and Republican retirements amount to a loss of eons of experience and include unique, irreplaceable characters that have left an indelible imprint on the Senate and American politics. But, this lobbyist said, the chamber was designed to absorb such losses, helped along in part by experienced staff who will remain.