(Odd how this post comes about within weeks of writing this about RFK.)
Many names have been mentioned in respect to who will take the place of Ted Kennedy in the Senate–the unique mix of being a liberal hardliner and a bipartisan deal-maker. But there is just nothing of the sort right now in the United States Senate. We’re not talking about a Senate full of lions (which will be the topic of the post after next), but a partisan, polarized group of people. As Tom Schaller mentions in the linked article, it’s just a different Senate from today’s.
Dick Durbin? Tom Harkin? Russ Feingold? Chris Dodd? None of the guys have the gravitas figures like Ted Kennedy did. Durbin, who is like Kennedy in that he managed to become Majority Whip as a liberal in the Senate, isn’t out in front and visible and the issues enough, though that may change if he happens to become Majority Leader. (Damn you, FiveThirtyEight!) The latter point holds for Harkin as well, even though he is a reliably liberal vote in the Senate. Feingold takes liberal positions on social and foreign policy issues but is a deficit hawk in the mold of Kent Conrad, and he is pretty overrated due to McCain-Feingold, which, although certainly a significant piece of legislation, is his only major bipartisan accomplishment.
My darkhorse pick? Al Franken. Many candidates raised their money badmouthing Franken when he was a well-known talkie in Minnesota, just as they did with Kennedy. Moreover, Franken, a diehard liberal, has been said to want to be like his idol Paul Wellstone, the chief spokesman for the liberal wing of the Democratic who also occasionally crossed the aisle (like the Bosnia intervention and DoMA). But it’s too much to determine anything from the freshman senator from Minnesota. More likely is the fact that we won’t see anything like Ted Kennedy for a very long time.