Baltimore Sun

The time is coming fast for some younger blood in the old Senate

- By Jonathan Bernstein

The Senate continues to get older for one big reason: The average age of new senators continues to rise.

There’s nothing wrong with the occasional older senator. Age diversity is good in elected office, and that includes some folks on the upper edge of the range as long as their skills and energy are intact. But if new senators are already in their 50s,

60s or beyond, the result is just an old, old Senate.

So with the 2022 primaries underway, it’s a good time to look at the age of those likely to constitute the next class of firstterm senators. Quick answer: There’s some bad news, but at least a bit of a reason for hope.

The most important seats for increasing diversity of any kind in the Senate are open seats in safe states for one of the parties. When such a vacancy opens up, the party can nominate any candidate it wants without much fear of losing. This time around, there are three such seats.

In Democratic Vermont, Sen. Patrick Leahy is retiring at 82. Vermont Democrats are going to nominate their single member of the House of Representa­tives, Peter Welch, 75, to replace him. Yeah, that’s not good. Republican­s are doing quite a bit better with their two safe open seats. Alabama Republican­s have nominated 40-year-old Katie Britt, while Oklahoma Republican­s await a runoff with Rep. Markwayne Mullin, who will turn 45 this month, expected to beat T.W. Shannon, former speaker of the state House of Representa­tives, who is 44.

Three other Republican­s running for open seats are expected to be competitiv­e. In Pennsylvan­ia, the GOP candidate is the celebrity doctor Mehmet Oz, 62. In Ohio, it’s the writer and investor J.D. Vance, 37. And in North Carolina, it’s Rep. Ted Budd, who will be 51 when the new Congress convenes on Jan. 3.

For those three seats, Democrats have nominated Pennsylvan­ia Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, who’d be 53; Rep. Tim Ryan of

Ohio, 49; and former North Carolina Chief Justice Cheri Beasley, 56.

Then there are incumbents who face tough challenges. Republican nominees taking on vulnerable incumbents include ex-football star Herschel Walker, 60, in Georgia and former state Attorney General Adam Laxalt, 44, in Nevada. (The Democrats running for reelection to those seats are Georgia’s Raphael Warnock, who’d be 53 at the start of next year, and Nevada’s Catherine Cortez Masto, 58.)

There are also primaries ahead in Arizona, New Hampshire and in Wisconsin for Democrats, who have a chance to knock off a Republican incumbent there. Finally, there are long shot upset possibilit­ies for Democrats in Florida and Republican­s in Colorado, with older challenger­s.

With the major exception of Vermont, this isn’t such a bad group with respect to age. In the 2020 election cycle, five of the nine newly elected senators were 60 or older when they took their oath of office. That sort of thing could happen in 2022 if Oz and Walker join Welch and perhaps one or two others as older new senators. But Alabama, Oklahoma, Ohio and North Carolina are virtually certain to elect new senators under 60, and three of those states will send someone under 50 to Washington.

Still, it’s more likely than not that the average age of incoming senators will be well over 50. That hasn’t always been the case. In the big Democratic landslide of 1974 and the big Republican landslide in 1980, not a single new senator had reached 60 and the average ages of those new classes was comfortabl­y under 50.

Few voters make their choices based on the age of the politician­s in general elections. They generally stick with the party line and when they don’t, it’s unlikely to have anything to do with age. Nor would I urge them to do so. It’s up to the parties to recruit, back and nominate strong younger candidates in primary elections if the overall age of the Senate is ever going to drop.

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