Caretaker Appointments Have Flopped for Democrats
WASHINGTON - Beau Biden's decision to forgo a Senate race in Delaware underscores the Democratic Party's challenge of holding onto Senate seats once held by Obama administration officials, including the president and vice president.
Biden, the vice president's son, had been widely expected to run by Democratic officials - including Sen. Robert Menendez of New Jersey, head of the party's senatorial campaign committee. "Our expectation is that Beau Biden will run," Menendez told USA TODAY in an interview this month.
Instead, Biden announced Monday that he will seek another term as the state's attorney general, leaving the party without a declared candidate 10 months before a general election against Rep. Mike Castle, a popular former Republican governor. Sen. Ted Kaufman was appointed by the state's Democratic governor to fill Vice President Biden's seat and is not running.
Such appointments have hurt the party's chances of holding those seats, said Darrell West, an independent analyst at the non-partisan Brookings Institution.
Democratic governors made four appointments to fill Senate seats vacated by the administration: Obama, Biden, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar of Colorado. Two of those appointees were caretakers who won't run for election and the other two could face strong primary or general election challengers.
"You want to get maximum leverage out of the appointments that you make," West said. "You don't want to name people who aren't going to run or who have baggage."
Kaufman's appointment allowed Beau Biden, who was in Iraq at the time, the opportunity to run for Senate - a possibility that Menendez and others counted on. Castle's now the favorite to win, political analyst Stuart Rothenberg said.
With polls showing voter anger directed at Democrats, appointments that may have been good choices in other years have turned into liabilities, said Rothenberg. "Some of these states just worked out messy," he said. "It does look botched in a number of places, but nobody knew the (election) cycle would turn out this way."
Deirdre Murphy, a spokeswoman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, criticized Castle in a statement but did not address Biden's decision.
Other appointed Democratic senators include:
Illinois. Then-governor Rod Blagojevich appointed former state attorney general Roland Burris to Obama's former Senate seat three weeks after Blagojevich's arrest on corruption charges. Burris isn't running for election. Polls show the leading candidates for the Feb. 2 primaries are Republican Rep. Mark Kirk and Democratic state Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias. Rothenberg rates the November race a tossup.
Colorado. Sen. Michael Bennet, appointed to replace Salazar, has been trailing in recent polls against Republican former lieutenant governor Jane Norton. Rothenberg also rates this race as a tossup.
New York. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand faces a possible primary challenge. Harold Ford Jr., a former Tennessee congressman, said he is seriously considering running. Gillibrand, a former House member, was appointed by Gov. David Paterson.