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Pat Leahy, the longest-serving current senator, to retire

The first and only member of the Democratic Party that Vermont has ever sent to the Senate is retiring. The race to replace him will be interesting.

As a rule, leaders of both parties like to keep retirements to a minimum. As we've discussed, there's no great mystery behind the strategy: Incumbents generally stand a better chance of winning re-election, and the more members head for the exits, the more party leaders have to worry about competitive contests and potentially messy primaries.

With this in mind, Democratic leaders in the Senate have been pleased by members' 2022 plans: While five Republican senators have announced they won't seek re-election next year, zero Democratic incumbents had made comparable retirement announcements.

That is, until this morning. NBC News reported:

Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., plans to retire at the end of his term, the veteran lawmaker told reporters in his home state on Monday. "It is time to pass the torch to the next Vermonter who will carry on this work for our great state. It's time to come home," Leahy said.

Leahy, who'll turn 82 in March, will exit Capitol Hill after eight terms in the Senate. Several of his colleagues — Arkansas' Tom Cotton, Missouri's Josh Hawley, Georgia's Jon Ossoff, and Arizona's Kyrsten Sinema — weren't even born when Leahy was first elected.

The Vermonter — the first and only member of the Democratic Party the Green Mountain State has ever sent to the Senate — is both the chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee and the president pro tempore, putting him third in the line of presidential succession.

He also has an amazing history with the Batman franchise.

In theory, Democrats probably aren't too concerned about holding onto this seat. Vermont is one of the nation's bluest states — President Joe Biden won the state by more than 35 points last fall — and there are a great many Democrats who would likely be competitive candidates. Rep. Peter Welch appears to be well positioned to succeed Leahy, but the popular congressman is 74 years old.

State Attorney General T.J. Donovan and Secretary of State Jim Condos, both Democrats who've easily won re-election to statewide offices in recent years, would also be strong contenders.

The other question is who the Republican nominee might be. The National Republican Senatorial Committee will no doubt give incumbent Gov. Phil Scott the hard sell and it's easy to understand why: The moderate GOP governor is a popular figure in Vermont, winning re-election last fall by 41 points, even as Biden won in a landslide on the same ballot. (Scott, a frequent and vocal critic of Donald Trump, publicly acknowledged voting for the Democratic ticket.)

That said, the governor told The Atlantic in May, "I don't have any interest in running for the Senate." The article added:

Scott has dismissed that possibility both for personal and the more obvious political reasons. "To be honest with you, I don't think Republicans could win," he told me. Vermonters might elect a moderate Republican as governor, but "they're not going to send a Republican to Washington to tip power to the Republicans."

That's not a categorical denial, but it would suggest GOP leaders will probably have to look elsewhere.