Chris Dodd (above), Arlen Specter and Judd Gregg take a combined 78 years of Senate experience into retirement. Dodd and Gregg chose not to stand for re-election, while Specter lost the Democratic primary after switching parties.
Until late 2008, President Barack Obama, Vice President Joseph Biden, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar all served in the Senate. Kennedy, who passed away in the summer of 2009, and Byrd, who died in June of this year, are both considered among the most effective legislators to ever serve in the chamber.
Byrd was the architect of key Senate rules governing the filibuster and the chambers regulations for approving a federal budget.
On a lighter note, the retirement of two-term Sen. Jim Bunning (R-Ky.) will see the exit of a Hall of Fame baseball player who is one of the few to have pitched a perfect game.
Some of it is generational, Senate Historian Don Ritchie said, explaining the turnover. Older Members are retiring or dying. Some of it is that political winds are shifting.
We have had periods where a large percentage of the Senate was in its first term, Ritchie added. Then those people tend to get re-elected and stay awhile, and the cycle starts all over again.
Come January, 16 freshmen are set to be sworn in, bringing the total turnover in the Senate to 40 since the Democratic wave election of 2006 10 were elected that year and 14 in 2008. And yet, previous elections have seen even greater upheaval.
The largest freshman class since World War I was in 1946, which, like this year, was a big Republican year. That year, the GOP captured 55 House seats and 12 Senate seats to retake control of Congress for the first time since 1928. Total size of the freshman Senate class coming out of that election: 22, although two of those elected had previously served in the Senate.
This years freshman class includes Dan Coats (R-Ind.), who retired from the Senate in 1998.
More recently, in the elections of 1976, 1978 and 1980, the total number of new Senators to emerge from those contests numbered 56.
In 1976, the first presidential election after the Watergate scandal, 10 new Democrats and eight new Republicans were elected. In 1978, President Jimmy Carters midterm year, nine new Democrats and 11 new Republicans were elected. And, in the 1980 election that saw Ronald Reagan become president, the GOP regained control of the Senate with a freshman class of 16. Only two new Democrats were elected that year.
This institution survives, Dorgan said. You have the difficult times and easier times. But the institution survives those of us who come and go.
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