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In the US Senate where seniority is paramount, Alabama is poised to dominate

Sens. Jeff Sessions & Richard Shelby
Sens. Jeff Sessions & Richard Shelby

With the 2014 primary elections behind us, all attention is focused on the United States Senate, where the Democrats are clinging to a slim majority and facing a challenging electoral map.

Here’s a quick look at the 2014 U.S. Senate races by the numbers:
35: Number of seats up for re-election
21: Number of contested seats held by Democrats (60%)
6: Number of Senate seats Republicans need to win to regain control
6+: Average number of senate seats the minority Party normally gains in a midterm election in a president’s second term
7: Number of the contested seats held by a Democrat in a state Romney won last time

Those numbers have given Republicans a great deal of optimism this election cycle. But in Alabama, that optimism is multiplied by the fact that Alabama’s senators are well positioned to be major players in the next session of Congress, thanks in large part to senate rules, which heavily favor the senators who have served in the body the longest.

Alabama’s senior U.S. senator Richard Shelby will be the 7th most senior member of the United States senate when it convenes in January of 2015. Shelby entered the body in 1987.

Alabama’s junior U.S. senator Jeff Sessions will be either the 18th or 19th most senior member of the senate next year, depending on whether Democratic senator Mary Landrieu holds on to her hotly contested seat in Louisiana. (That looks unlikely at this point.) Sessions entered the body in 1997.

That means the average seniority of Alabama’s senators will be either 12.5 or 13. The only senate delegation that will eclipse that level of seniority is California’s, whose two senators will have an average seniority rank of 10.5.

So why does that matter?

In addition to perks like better office space and a desk closer to the front of the Senate Chamber, senior senators get plumb committee assignments and chairmanships.

If Republicans re-take the senate, Sen. Shelby will Chair the Banking Committee and be the second-ranking Republican on Appropriations. Sen. Sessions will chair the Budget Committee.

Back in April, Yellowhammer summarized how big of a deal that scenario would be:

If Republicans take control of the Senate in 2014, Alabama would likely be the only state with two chairmen of A-level committees. No other state has that level of seniority.

On top of that, the way that the Budget and Appropriations committees interplay with each other would create a unique situation in which Alabama’s senators would be playing leading roles in shaping U.S. economic policy. There’s a very realistic potential scenario in which one Alabamian (Sessions) sets the number for how much money the federal government has to spend, and another Alabamian (Shelby) plays a major role in how the money is spent.

That’s why it’s safe to say that Alabama stands to gain as much or more than any state in the country by a Republican takeover of the Senate.


Follow Cliff on Twitter @Cliff_Sims

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