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Posted at 8:28 AM ET, 03/ 8/2011

A new record for Senate retirements

By Aaron Blake and Chris Cillizza

Sen. John Ensign's (R-Nev.) announcement Monday that he will not seek reelection continues a string of retirements that sets a new standard.

The number of retirements in the first two months of the 112th Congress is now more than we've seen in any Congress in the past century.

Eight of the 33 senators up for reelection -- nearly one-fourth of the entire class -- have already said they will not seek another term. And even if no other senator opts to retire, that will be one of the biggest classes of retirees in history.

The only times over the course of the past 100 years that we've seen more retirements were 2010 (10 retirements), 1996 (13) and 1978 (9). And we've still got a few potential retirees left.

It all leads to that question: What gives? Doesn't anyone want to be a senator anymore?

Part of the reason for all the early retirements is that, more than ever, the campaign committees are pushing for their members to decide on reelection early in the cycle. This gives their party plenty of time to find a replacement candidate and allows that candidate to get off the ground in plenty of time to raise the kind of money he or she needs in an increasingly competitive electoral environment.

The other reason is that massive retirements generally come on the heels of a big shift in power. The biggest year for retirements -- 1996 -- came right after the Republican Revolution in 1994. And there was also a big shift before the 2010 retirements, as the GOP lost eight seats in 2008 and almost immediately saw five of its members opt for retirement.

Republicans wound up holding on to all five of those seats - something Democrats hope to be able to replicate in 2012.

Although Ensign had a scandal, Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii) is in his 80s and Sens. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) faced tough paths to reelection, other members seem to be stepping aside for no reason besides not wanting to be in the Senate for another six years. This has been the case with Sens. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Tex.), Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) and Jim Webb (D-Va.), who are all retiring at relatively young ages. (Webb also faced a potentially tough race.)

Sure, all four of them are in their 60s, but none of them rank among the 30 oldest senators.

What it means is that the next Congress will feature an even fresher-faced Senate. Already, there are 16 brand new senators and more than two-fifths of the Senate has served less than one term.

Given the retirements we've seen so far, as much as half of the next Senate could be members in their first term or having just won their second term. And for a Senate so staid in tradition, it could be an interesting time.

Younger members generally have less patience than their more seasoned colleagues and have already been pushing for the slow-acting chamber to pick up the pace. And the new setup will put many of these new members in heretofore unthinkable positions of power.

First-term Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), for instance, could become chairman or ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee if Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) doesn't return for another term (Lugar faces a primary challenge) and Corker wins a second term, as expected. That's a position Lugar and Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) both waited more than two decades for.

The tradition of old white men who have all worked together for many years is quickly coming to an end, with a crop of relative newcomers ready to form their own majority -- not a partisan majority, albeit, but a majority that could look at how things in the Senate are done differently.

Underdogs on top in Iowa: The 2012 GOP presidential underdogs fared well at last night's Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition's Spring Kick Off. Former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum, former Louisiana governor Buddy Roemer, and former Godfather's Pizza executive Herman Cain may be considered long shots for the presidency, but they gave the best speeches of the night.

Roemer gave a passionate speech in which he promised not to take contributions over $100, denouncing PACs and special interest money. He even gave a harsh condemnation of ethanol subsidies that got scattered applause from the crowd in a corn-producing state. But many more people were standing and applauding when he left the stage then when he came on.

Santorum was relaxed, cracking jokes but also speaking passionately of "fighting the wars on these moral issues." He tried to turn his reputation as a polarizing politician into a positive, saying he fought the hard battles and suffered the consequences - joking that from the way he was talked about on TV, his kids "thought my first name was 'ultra.'"

Former House speaker Newt Gingrich gave a solid but standard speech.

Former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty started a little slow. He kept referring to host Steve Scheffler as "Chuck," and he took a while to find his rhythm.

Gingrich admits 'unfortunate confusion': In an interview with the Des Moines Register, Gingrich acknowledged that his presidential rollout has been a little rocky.

A Gingrich adviser said that his boss planned to launch an exploratory committee last week; Gingrich then contradicted him. Before forming a formal exploratory committee and filing detailed reports to the FEC, Gingrich needs to disentangle himself from his various business dealings, he said.

"It led to unfortunate confusion," Gingrich said. "I wish we had been a little more structured last week. But I don't take it as a very serious problem. We do many, many things, and most of them reasonably well."

Manchin to votes against GOP, Democratic budgets: Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) will announce in a floor speech today that he plans to vote against both a Republican and a Democratic effort to fund the government through the end of the fiscal year. And in the process, he will have some harsh words for President Obama.

Manchin will criticize both plans -- the Democratic one for doing too little to cut spending and the Republican one as a bill that "blindly hacks the budget" and is worse than the Democratic plan. Both are expected to fail, and Manchin will call out Obama for not doing enough to work out a deal.

"Why are we doing all this when the most powerful person in these negotiations -- our president -- has failed to lead this debate or offer a serious proposal for spending and cuts that he would be willing to fight for?" Manchin is set to say, according to prepared remarks.

The moderate has blazed his own trail since joining the Senate following a 2010 special election, emerging as a voice of dissent in his party while navigating a quick turnaround in his 2012 reelection bid.

Fixbits:

The Republican Party of Florida has set a straw poll and a presidential debate for September.

Republicans in the Florida legislature are having a hard time working with GOP Gov. Rick Scott.

Mike Huckabee says he must win South Carolina if he runs for president.

Must-reads:

"Ensign's retirement may actually help the GOP" -- Gerry Mullany, New York Times

"How Romney could survive his health care issue" -- Philip Klein, American Spectator

"Huntsman is 'not considered a conservtive'" -- David M. Drucker, CQ-Roll Call

By Aaron Blake and Chris Cillizza  | March 8, 2011; 8:28 AM ET
Categories:  Senate  
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