If Democrats wind up with 59 U.S. Senate seats on Election Day, they can still reach the magic filibuster-proof number of 60 if the new President appoints Republican Olympia Snowe to his cabinet. The Governor of Maine, John Baldacci, would presumably appoint a fellow Democrat to serve until a November 2010 special election to fill the balance of Snowe’s term.
Should Barack Obama win, he is expected to reach across the aisle for at least one cabinet appointment. The popular, moderate Snowe would be a credible pick for Transportation or Commerce secretary, or Ambassador to the United Nations, and her nomination would surely not offend congressional Democrats.
The 61-year-old Snowe has been in Congress since her election to the House in 1978, and there is already speculation that she won’t seek re-election when her third term ends in 2012. A cabinet post in an Obama administration might be an attractive option for her, as it was for her political mentor, William Cohen, who became Bill Clinton’s Secretary of Defense after eighteen years as a Republican Senator from Maine.
Democrats are poised to defeat Republican Senators in Alaska, Minnesota, New Hampshire, North Carolina and Oregon, and to pick up the seats of retiring GOP Senators in Colorado, New Mexico and Virginia. Those eight seats would bring the Democrats to 59, assuming the majority continues to ask independent Joseph Lieberman to help them organize the Senate. Republican Senators in Georgia, Kentucky and Mississippi are in tight races, but are expected to win.
By next year there could be as many as eleven states where Democratic Governors could legally appoint Democrats to replace Republican U.S. Senators. But most of those Senators are likely to be too conservative for an Obama administration, making Snowe the most palatable choice.