James Leroy Wilson's blog

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

What is a "senior" Senator?

What is a “Senior Senator?”

Have you ever noticed that the longer-serving Senator in any state is the “senior Senator” and the one not quite as experienced is the “junior” one?

I don’t think that makes sense.

The Senate has two Senators, each serving six-year terms. They are staggered so that roughly one-third are elected every two years. For each state, that means that in any three consecutive election cycles, the people are spared once from having to vote for a U.S. Senator.

I think, in this situation, the “senior Senator” should not be the longest-serving one, but the one has four years, instead of two years, of re-election fundraising.

Think about it in terms of partisanship. In any state over a six year election cycle, there’s going to be a gap with no elections. Which means four years for the Senator facing re-election to fundraise. But after his election, his fellow Senator of the same state will have only two years to fundraise.

You could say that a Senator has six years. The first four, he could do good work (theoretically). The fifth, he could fundraise based on the four-year record. On the sixth, he campaigns. But the reality is quite different: the focus is always on the Senator facing re-election. Democrat or Republican partisans are bent on keeping or defeating the incumbent in the next Senate election. One class of Senator enjoys four years of fundraising and campaigning, while the Senator in the same state has only two.

Let’s say that Senate Seat A is elected in 2000, 2006, 2012, 2018, 2024. Senate Seat B is elected in 1998, 2004, 2010, 2016, and 2022. Senator A will always be at a disadvantage; he only gets two years for the state to focus on his election, whereas Senator B will always enjoy four. Senator B will always be able to build up the strong reputation of “statesmanlike” behavior and serving the state, and has more time to fundraise before campaigning for re-election, because he always enjoys the four-year gap between the state’s Senate elections, whereas Senator A always enjoys only two.

I think the “senior” Senator should be the one with a four-year campaign window instead of a two-year window. He is always at an advantage.

This is all intuition, of course. I’m sure a study has been done on this - I mean, if political science doesn’t study things like this, then what does it study? But I would bet that incumbents with a four-year re-election window have greater winning percentages than incumbents with two-year windows.

Then again, the low sampling size and the relative uniqueness of each election year and each state’s political environment may largely negate such a conclusion. Still, I’d be willing to bet on it.

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