Weekend open thread: Beau Biden memories

Devastating news: Vice President Joe Biden’s oldest child, Beau Biden, passed away of brain cancer today. He was only 46 years old but already had an accomplished career, including service as Delaware attorney general. He was seen as a likely future governor or senator. He leaves behind a wife and two children.

Beau Biden spent quite a bit of time in Iowa supporting his father’s presidential campaign in 2007. I only met him once, at a house party in West Des Moines, where he came across as down to earth and sincerely interested in talking politics with a bunch of strangers. I heard nothing but good things about Beau from my many friends and acquaintances who encountered him on the campaign trail. Many Iowans have been sharing their memories on social media this evening. I hope some members of the Bleeding Heartland community will tell their own stories in this thread.

After the jump I’ve posted the Biden family’s statement and a video of an incredible speech the vice president delivered in 2012 to an audience of grieving military families. He shared his experiences after the car accident that killed his wife and baby daughter and injured his sons Beau and Hunter, then told the bereaved listeners,

“There will come a day, I promise you, when the thought of your son or daughter or your husband or wife brings a smile to your lips before it brings a tear to your eye. It will happen. It will happen. My prayer for you is that day will come sooner or later. […] I’m telling you it will come.”

It’s heartbreaking for any parent to suffer the loss of a child. I can’t believe Joe Biden has to live through this nightmare a second time. But as Michael Grunwald observed, “When you think of what Joe Biden’s endured and what he’s like, he seems to get something right about life that most of us don’t.”

This post is also an open thread: all topics welcome.

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Let voters fill vacant Senate seats

When a member of the U.S. House of Representatives dies, retires or takes another job, a special election is held in the district. Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin plans to introduce a constitutional amendment requiring special elections to fill vacant U.S. Senate seats as well:

“The controversies surrounding some of the recent gubernatorial appointments to vacant Senate seats make it painfully clear that such appointments are an anachronism that must end.  In 1913, the Seventeenth Amendment to the Constitution gave the citizens of this country the power to finally elect their senators.  They should have the same power in the case of unexpected mid term vacancies, so that the Senate is as responsive as possible to the will of the people.  I plan to introduce a constitutional amendment this week to require special elections when a Senate seat is vacant, as the Constitution mandates for the House, and as my own state of Wisconsin already requires by statute.  As the Chairman of the Constitution Subcommittee, I will hold a hearing on this important topic soon.”

Feingold explained the rationale for his “new effort to empower the people” in this Daily Kos diary.

Since the November election, four Democratic governors have appointed new U.S. senators. Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich is in particular disgrace for allegedly trying to profit personally from the appointment to fill Barack Obama’s seat. After a convoluted chain of events, Blagojevich was eventually able to get his choice, Roland Burris, seated in the U.S. Senate. (Jane Hamsher wrote the best piece I’ve seen on the farce: I want to play poker with Harry Reid.)

New York Governor David Paterson didn’t cover himself with glory either during the past two months. I agree with Chris Cillizza:

Is it possible that this process could have played out any more publicly or messily? It’s hard to imagine how. Paterson’s final pick — [Kirsten] Gillibrand — is entirely defensible but the way he handled everything that happened between when Clinton was nominated and today cloud that picture. Will Paterson ultimately be a winner for picking an Upstate woman to share the ticket with him in 2010? Maybe. But, today it’s hard to see him as anything other than a loser.

The other two Senate vacancies filled by governors stirred up less controversy nationwide, but are also problematic in some respects. Governor Ruth Ann Minner of Delaware replaced Joe Biden with picked a longtime Biden staffer who has no plans to run in 2010. I love competitive primaries, but in this case Minner was mainly trying to clear the path for Biden’s son Beau Biden, the attorney general of Delaware who could not be appointed to the Senate now because of a deployment in Iraq.

Colorado Governor Bill Ritter passed up various elected officials with extensive campaign experience and a clear position on the issues to appoint Michael Bennet, who had very little political experience and virtually no public record on any national issues. (Colorado pols were stunned by the choice.)

Discussing Feingold’s proposed amendment, John Deeth seems concerned mainly with the prospect of a governor appointing someone from the other political party to replace a retiring senator.

For me, the fact that all four Democratic governors appointed Democrats to the vacant U.S. Senate seats is immaterial.

I can’t tell you whether Burris, Gillibrand, Kaufman or Bennet will do a good job in the Senate for the next two years, but I can assure you that none of them would have earned the right to represent their states in a competitive Democratic primary. That alone is reason to support Feingold’s constitutional amendment.

The power of incumbency is immense and will create obstacles for other Democrats who may want to challenge Gillibrand or Bennet in 2010. (Burris may be out sooner than that if Blagojevich is removed from office, but whoever his successor appoints would have the same unjustified advantage in a potential 2010 primary in Illinois.)

Special elections can be held within a few months. Let voters decide who should represent them in the Senate.

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Update on U.S. House and Senate races

Yesterday runoff elections were held in Louisiana’s second and fourth Congressional districts.

In the biggest Congressional upset of the year, Democratic incumbent “Dollar Bill” Jefferson lost to Republican Joseph Cao in LA-02. You may remember Jefferson as the guy who kept $90,000 in cash in his freezer and used the National Guard to visit his home in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. I’m normally a yellow-dog Democrat, but Jefferson is one Democrat I’m happy to see go.

No need to worry about winning back this seat in 2010, as David from Swing State Project explains:

So LA-02 is D+28 (old PVI). There is no district that is as red as this one is blue – UT-03 tops out at R+26. This reminds me of IL-05 in 1994 (1990s PVI: D+11) – corrupt Dan Rostenkowski got beaten by the unknown Michael Flanagan, who got soundly thumped by Rod Blagojevich two years later.

Remember, there are only nine other Republicans in Congress representing House districts with any kind of Democratic lean, and the most Democratic of those districts is D+6.5. Assuming Louisiana Democrats come up with a credible candidate in 2010, LA-02 should be an easy pickup.

The result in LA-04 yesterday was more disappointing. Democrat Paul Carmouche appears to be just 350 votes (less than 0.5 percent) behind Republican John Fleming. Carmouche is not conceding yet, but I doubt there are enough outstanding provisional and absentee ballots to put him over the top here. On the other hand, keeping it this close represents a kind of moral victory for Democrats, since John McCain carried LA-04 by 19 points on November 4. A Democrat “should” not even be competitive in a district like this.

Within the past week Democratic candidates conceded in California’s fourth and forty-fourth districts, which were both unexpectedly close despite having strong Republican partisan voting index numbers.

Provisional ballots are still being counted in Ohio’s fifteenth district. It looks like Democrat Mary Jo Kilroy has a decent chance at beating Republican incumbent Steve Stivers, because the 26,000 provisional ballots are in her stronghold (see this post by brownsox for more details). Am I the only one who finds it suspicious that so many voters had to fill out provisional ballots? That’s almost 10 percent of all the voters in the district on November 4.

UPDATE: Kilroy has won OH-15 by about 2,000 votes. Her margin of victory is large enough not to trigger an automatic recount. Assuming the recount in LA-04 does not change last night’s result, the next Congress will have 257 Democrats and 178 Republicans. I’ll take it!

Moving to the Senate races, the Minnesota contest is sure to end up in the courts and perhaps resolved by the U.S. Senate. The state canvassing board has delayed its meeting to review thousands of challenged ballots until December 16, because one precinct that favored Al Franken appears to have lost about 130 ballots that were counted on election night. If the ballots are not found, he could lose several dozen votes, which could make the difference in this ridiculously close race. It’s still unclear whether absentee ballots that were rejected because of clerical errors will be counted in Minnesota.

Click here to find a bunch of recent (and more detailed) accounts of what’s going on in Minnesota. Whoever ends up getting seated in the Senate is going to be viewed as illegitimate by many on the other side. I still can’t believe more than 400,000 Minnesotans voted for independent candidate Dean Barkley.

The presidential election results created a few Senate vacancies. The governor of Delaware appointed Ted Kaufman, a former chief of staff to Joe Biden, to take Biden’s place. The consensus seems to be that Biden set this up to leave the path clear for his son, Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden, to run in 2010 when there is a special election to determine who will serve out Joe Biden’s term (which ends in 2014). The younger Biden cannot serve in the Senate now because he has been deployed in Iraq.

In New York, Caroline Kennedy (the daughter of President John F. Kennedy) has become the surprise favorite to be appointed to take Hillary Clinton’s place. It strikes me as an odd choice in a state with many capable Democrats in the U.S. House. Nothing against Kennedy, who seems very smart and principled, but I think Governor David Paterson should pick someone with more relevant political experience for this job. More speculation on the New York Senate seat is here. As in Delaware, there will be a special election in 2010 to determine who will serve out Clinton’s term (which ends in 2012).

Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich still has not announced his choice to replace Barack Obama in the Senate. Many people still expect Tammy Duckworth to have the inside track, especially since Obama is going with retired General Eric Shinseki for Secretary of Veterans’ Affairs. On the other hand, Fox News says Illinois Senate President Emil Jones will be picked to serve out Obama’s term (which ends in 2010). Jones is considered a “safe” choice because he is both black and an “elder statesman” placeholder. If he is the pick, expect a very competitive Democratic Senate primary in Illinois in 2010.

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Update on U.S. Senate seats still up for grabs

The Democrat challenging seven-time convicted felon Ted Stevens has taken a lead in the Alaska Senate race. OK, it’s only a three-vote lead among some 250,000 votes counted so far, but if I’m Mark Begich, I’ll take it. (UPDATE: Begich now leads by 814 votes out of some 263,000 counted.)

There are lots more early votes to be counted in the coming days, and no one seems to know exactly where they will come from. However, speculation in this thread at Swing State Project indicates that Democrats have reason to be optimistic about picking up the Senate seat from Alaska. That would bring the Democratic caucus to 58 (counting independent Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who votes with Democrats).

The Minnesota Senate race between Al Franken and Norm Coleman will go to a recount and may not be decided before the middle of December. According to the latest count, Coleman leads by 206 votes out of more than 2.5 million cast. Nate Silver examines Franken’s prospects from several different angles, and concludes:

The more that I examine this data, the more I’m beginning to believe that the number of reclassifiable ballots may be relatively low, but that the proportion of such ballots that are resolved in Franken’s favor may be relatively high. How these two factors will ultimately reconcile themselves, I don’t know.

The runoff Senate election in Georgia between incumbent Saxby Chambliss and Democrat Jim Martin will take place on December 2. There have not been any public polls yet in this race since the general election. A lot of Barack Obama’s field staff have reportedly moved to Georgia to work this race for Martin. The Republican playbook is to link Martin to Democratic leaders in Congress. Will that be enough for Chambliss in this red state?

At Swing State Project, Crisitunity published this overview of likely candidates to replace Joe Biden as U.S. Senator from Delaware. Biden’s son Beau, the attorney general of Delaware, is ineligible because of his current deployment. The most likely options are either Lieutenant Governor Jack Carney, or a seat-warmer who would let Beau Biden run for the seat in 2010, after his deployment has ended.

Speculation about Barack Obama’s replacement continues, with the first Illinois poll on the topic showing Representative Jesse Jackson, Jr. as the most popular choice.

Six U.S. House races are still uncalled: Alaska’s at-large seat, California’s fourth district, California’s 44th district, Ohio’s 15th district, Louisiana’s second district, and Louisiana’s fourth district. The first four are Republican-held seats where the Republican candidate leads. LA-04 and LA-02 will hold runoff elections in December. Probably our best chance to pick up another seat is in OH-15.

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