By ERIC FREEDMAN
Capital News Service
LANSING – As goes Delaware, so might Michigan.
Thank Vice President-elect Joe Biden for that.
Biden’s state, Delaware, is one of the few that allows candidates to run simultaneously for president or vice president and for the U.S. House or Senate. On Nov. 4, he won not only the vice presidency, but swept to his seventh Senate term by a 64.7–
5.3 percent margin over a Republican challenger.
Now Rep. Steve Bieda, D-Warren, wants to give ambitious Michigan politicians the same option of two bites of the electoral apple. His legislation would let a contender “have his or her name appear on the general election ballot as a candidate for both offices.”
But Oakland University political scientist David Dulio thinks that’s a bad
idea, saying it would let aspiring politicians “have it both ways. Certainly from the voters’ perspective, it can smell bad.
“Voters look at it like `take your pick,’” said Dulio, who teaches courses about
Current law is unclear, state Elections Director Chris Thomas said.
“Most people would think you couldn’t do that, but it would be a close call,” said Thomas, who takes no position on the policy merits of the proposal. “There’s no black-
letter law prohibiting it, but it would be a major legal issue” if a candidate were to run for both types of office at the same time.
Of course, a candidate who wins both seats can serve in only one, so Biden gave up his Senate seat, just as Lyndon Johnson did in 1960 when he won the vice presidency and was reelected Democratic U.S. senator from Texas on the same day.
As for candidates who fail to grab the brass ring of the presidency or vice presidency, keeping a House or Senate seat averts unemployment.
That was the situation for Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut, the failed Democratic vice presidential nominee with Al Gore in 2000 who handily won reelection to the Senate the same day.
If a Senate winner accepts the presidency or vice presidency, as did Biden and Johnson, the governor appoints a replacement. Delaware’s Democratic governor has chosen another Democrat to fill Biden’s seat. A House winner would be replaced in a special election in his or her district.
Lieberman was luckier than U.S. Rep. William Miller of New York, who sacrificed a safe House seat in 1964 to be Barry Goldwater’s GOP vice presidential running mate.
Bieda says the change “would enhance the Michigan congressional delegation’s power.
“The delegation has a lot of talented people and a great deal of influence,” he said. The current either-or law requires an incumbent with seniority, possibly a committee chair, to choose between virtually certain House or Senate reelection and a White House or vice presidential gamble, risking that influence.
Indiana takes a modified tack, allowing dual candidacies for U.S. House or Senate and the vice presidency, but not the presidency.
Oakland’s Dulio also sees a distinction between the two offices, saying presidential candidates probably should give up their Senate or House seat anyway “because they’re not there doing their job” during the 18 months or longer of a presidential campaign. Letting vice presidential nominees stay in Congress through the election is “a little bit easier to stomach” because their campaign season generally lasts
only a few months between the nominating conventions and Election Day.
Bieda’s bill wouldn’t change parts of existing state law that prohibit simultaneous candidacies for other offices – for example, running at the same time for governor and
U.S. House, or for state Senate and attorney general.
No members of the Michigan congressional delegation are being touted as potential national ticket contenders in the 2012 presidential contest or beyond. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing, is up for reelection that year, as will all U.S. House incumbents
The last serious presidential contender from Michigan was Republican Gerald Ford, who was representing a Grand Rapids-area congressional district when President Richard Nixon appointed him vice president to replace the disgraced Spiro Agnew.
Ford became president when Nixon resigned in 1974, but lost to Democrat Jimmy Carter in 1976.
Bieda’s bill is pending in the House Ethics and Elections Committee. No action is expected before the legislative session ends Dec. 31.