The replacements

All these open Senate seats for the Democrats could create complications.

Published December 16, 2008 3:38PM (EST)

With Barack Obama's selection of Colorado Democratic Sen. Ken Salazar for Secretary of the Interior, that makes four Democrats leaving the Senate, two serving in the next White House and two in the Cabinet-to-be. And it's both a talent drain and a diversity drain: Obama, Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton, and now Salazar. "That’s a loss of a lot of institutional knowledge and/or brainpower," adds Mark Murray at MSNBC's First Read.

It also means finding four suitable replacements who not only will bring some new brainpower to the Senate, but also have reasonable chances to win special elections and regular elections to remain senators for the medium to long term. And that, in turn, almost certainly means the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee will have to spend resources in the special elections as well upcoming regular cycles it would otherwise prefer to spend going after vulnerable Republicans.

There's also a particular hit for the Democrats' emergent Southwest. Along with Salazar, Obama lured governors Janet Napolitano and Bill Richardson. Again, great to have the diversity in the cabinet, but it also cuts down the number of women and minority governors and also provides holes for the Democrats to fill. (The upside is that the downballot gains the Democrats have made recently in the Southwest yielded a more promising bench than they had, say, a decade ago.)

By Thomas Schaller

Thomas F. Schaller is professor of political science at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the author of "Whistling Past Dixie: How Democrats Can Win Without the South." Follow him @schaller67.

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