Michigan’s Levin latest to exit Senate

Michigan's Levin latest to exit Senate
Michigan's Levin latest to exit Senate
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One of the top electoral goals for the Senate Democratic leadership going into this Congress was keeping retirements to a minimum. That strategy doesn’t seem to be going well.

Michigan Sen. Carl Levin, D, a mainstay of the upper chamber since 1979, will not seek re-election next fall, he said Thursday.

Levin, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, announced in a statement that he would not seek a seventh term in 2014. Levin is currently 78-years-old.

Levin, the longest-serving senator in Michigan history, becomes the sixth incumbent to announce that he won’t seek another term in 2014. Of the six, four are Democratic: Levin, Iowa’s Tom Harkin, West Virginia’s Jay Rockefeller, and New Jersey’s Frank Lautenberg.

Had he sought re-election, Levin would have won easily, so it’s not as if fear of defeat scared him away. Rather, the Michigan Democrat just felt it was time to move on.

In light of Levin’s announcement, there are two questions to kick around. The first, of course, is what’s likely to happen to his seat. Democrats appear to have a structural advantage – Michigan tends to be a “blue” state; Republicans have only won one Senate race in the state in the last four decades; and the GOP’s bench is woefully thin, as evinced by the party’s weak field challenging Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D) in 2012.

It’s obviously too soon to say with any confidence who’ll run, but among Democrats, the most likely contender is Rep. Gary Peters, whose district was made far more challenging after the 2010 redistricting process. Also keep an eye on former two-term Gov. Jennifer Granholm

Among Republicans, attention is turning to state Attorney General Bill Schuette and Clark Durant, who lost in a GOP Senate primary in the last cycle.

Also note, Michigan’s Republican governor, Rick Snyder, very likely benefits from the Levin news – Democrats see him as vulnerable, but top-tier candidates will almost certainly prefer to run for an open Senate seat rather than challenge a well-funded incumbent.

And then there’s the other question: what’s with all the retirements?

It’s only early March – the year before the election – and six senators are already headed for the exits. In the last Congress, there were 10 voluntary retirements. In the Congress before that, there were seven.

By historical standards, that’s quite a bit of turnover, and doesn’t even include senators who lost or died while in office. What’s driving this? Why are so many senators, most of whom would have been re-elected if they chose to run again, leaving their exclusive club?

We can only speculate, of course, but I have to wonder whether being a senator is a whole lot less fun that it used to be – the chamber just isn’t a satisfying place to be right now. Republican abuse of filibuster rules have made it nearly impossible to do much of anything, and with a radicalized House majority, even if the Senate can pass something, it’s likely to die in the lower chamber.

Senators effectively just spin their wheels, unable to govern, leaving both rookies and veteran senators alike feeling frustrated.

Maybe members should give institutional reforms another look.

Carl Levin and Michigan

Michigan's Levin latest to exit Senate