BY MARY ORNDORFF TROYAN, Gannett Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON -South Carolina is the latest state to put one of its U.S. Senate seats in perpetual campaign mode, a fairly common occurrence nationally that can make it feel like there is a revolving door to the Capitol.
Sen. Jim DeMint announced Thursday he's stepping down in January to become president of The Heritage Foundation in Washington, and the Constitution leaves it up to Gov. Nikki Haley to fill the vacancy. Her appointee will serve until a special election in 2014, and whomever wins that race will face voters again just two years later, in order to get the seat back on its normal six-year cycle. So it's possible South Carolina could have three different people in that Senate seat over the next four years.
Add to the mix the re-election campaigns of Haley and South Carolina's senior senator, Lindsey Graham, and 2014 is shaping up to be a banner year politically.
"We're going to have a good ol' hay-hoo, go-at-it donnybrook down here if history is any indicator," said David Woodard, a professor of political science at Clemson University.
But the size of the donnybrook will be greatly affected by Haley's appointment. If she picks a caretaker, someone who will not run in 2014, the open seat is likely to attract multiple candidates, especially in the Republican primary.
"Everybody and their dog will be out there," Woodard said.
But if she picks a political heavyweight and established fundraiser - someone who will immediately be considered a frontrunner and run with the power of incumbency - it could keep potential challengers at bay.
In the last century, South Carolina has had seven appointed senators, none of whom stayed long. One died within days, two were defeated at the polls, and four didn't run at all.
Nationally, the record is more mixed. Since 1950, there have been 80 appointments to the Senate, and 30 of the appointees did not run to keep the job. Of the 50 who ran for election, 28 were defeated, and 22 won, according to Jennifer Duffy, Senate analyst at the Cook Political Report.
"It just brings it home to South Carolina a little closer that appointments are no sure thing, so you do have to think long and hard about who you appoint," Duffy said. Of the 28 appointees who were defeated, 10 of them lost in their own party primaries.
Recent history has been kinder to appointees. In New York, for example, then-Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand was appointed in 2009 by former Gov. David Paterson to the Senate seat vacated by Hillary Rodham Clinton when she became secretary of state. Gillibrand, a Democrat, won the special election in 2010, and re-election in 2012, so she starts her first full six-year term in January. In Wyoming, Sen. John Barrasso, a Republican, was appointed in 2007 and won elections in 2008 and 2012. Dean Heller, a Republican, was appointed senator from Nevada in 2011 and was re-elected this year. And Michael Bennet, D-Colo., was appointed in 2009 and won the seat in 2010.
Haley has already ruled out appointing herself and has said she will not run in the special election in 2014. But in West Virginia, then-Gov. Joe Manchin appointed a caretaker to the seat vacated by the death of Sen. Robert Byrd in 2010. The appointee did not run in the special election a few months later, but Manchin did, and won. He won again in 2012, and now doesn't run again until 2018.
"In the past 10 years or so, appointed senators who have run have had more success, and I think it's because the parties realize . . . that you have to get in there and help them out," Duffy said. "There are more resources and help than there used to be."
South Carolina's election schedule means serious candidates and/or appointees will have to raise huge amounts of money, fast.
"Five minutes, $5 million," said Woodard, who wrote a book with DeMint and worked on his House campaigns. DeMint and Graham spent between $5.4 million and $6.5 million in their recent campaigns.
Woodard said he believes Republicans in South Carolina would not be happy with a caretaker appointee from Haley.
"I believe that being in the minority, they want a viable senator who can negotiate for a full two years and when they're talking to (House Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky) or somebody across the aisle, they realize that this is a senator who may be back as opposed to someone who is redecorating the office," Woodard said.
Duffy said the pressure to raise money quickly makes members of the U.S. House, who already run every two years, natural contenders.
"It would have to be someone who is willing to run and live on the campaign trail for four years," Duffy said.