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Will West Virginia Democrats Hold Jay Rockefeller's Seat?

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The party of retiring five-term U.S. Senators has held the seat 83 percent of the time in the next election since popular vote Senate contests began a century ago

jayrockefeller10.jpgJay Rockefeller's announcement last week that he would retire at the end of the 113th Congress puts an open seat on the ballot in 2014 that has been under Democratic control since 1958.

Democrats are hoping West Virginia in 2014 resembles North Dakota in 2012 - with five-term Senators from their party retiring in red states.

In North Dakota's open seat last November caused by the retirement of five-term Senator Kent Conrad, Democrat Heidi Heitkamp overcame a 19.6-point deficit by Barack Obama at the top of the ticket to eke out a 0.9-point win over favored Rick Berg in the deep red state that, like West Virginia, has nonetheless generally been dominated by Democrats in its U.S. Senate delegation for decades.

But can Democrats hope for the same in 2014?

Or do voters get a 30-year itch when five-term Senators leave office and vote in a new party?

A Smart Politics review of U.S. Senate election data finds that the open seats of retiring five-term Senators have been held by the Senator's party in 83 percent of subsequent elections during the direct election era (10 of 12 contests).

Smart Politics examined the pool of the 12 U.S. Senators in the 20th and 21st Centuries who were elected by popular vote to the Senate in five consecutive contests before retiring like Rockefeller will in January 2015.

Ten of these subsequent elections saw the same party retain control of the seat the next time it came up at the ballot box (via special or general election).

In seven of these elections, the exiting Senators were elected and served out five full terms, with the same party holding the seat six times:

· 1948, Kansas: Republican Arthur Capper retired after victories in 1918, 1924, 1930, 1936, and 1942. Republican Andrew Schoeppel won the open seat race.

· 1996, Oregon: Republican Mark Hatfield retired after victories in 1966, 1972, 1978, 1984, and 1990. Republican Gordon Smith won the open seat race.

· 2002, North Carolina: Republican Jesse Helms retired after five wins in 1972, 1978, 1984, 1990, and 1996. Republican Elizabeth Dole won his open seat.

· 2006, Maryland: Democrat Paul Sarbanes retired after five victories in 1976, 1982, 1988, 1994, and 2000. Democrat Ben Cardin won the open seat contest.

· 2008, Virginia: Republican John Warner retired after five wins in 1978, 1984, 1990, 1996, and 2002. Democrat Mark Warner picked up the open seat for his party.

· 2010, Connecticut: Democrat Chris Dodd retired after five victories in 1980, 1986, 1992, 1998, and 2004. Democrat Richard Blumenthal defeated Linda McMahon to keep the seat in the Democratic column.

· 2012, New Mexico: Democrat Jeff Bingaman retired after five wins in 1982, 1988, 1994, 2000, and 2006. Democrat Martin Heinrich won the open seat.

In five elections, the exiting Senators served out their terms before retirement but won one of their five terms via special election and as such did not serve a full 30 years. The Senator's party held the seat four times:

· 1960, Montana: Democrat James Murray was elected in a special election in 1934 and four full terms in 1936, 1942, 1948, and 1954. Democrat Lee Metcalf won the open seat six years later.

· 1976, Rhode Island: Democrat John Pastore won a special election in 1950 and four full terms in 1952, 1958, 1964, and 1970. Republican John Chafee picked up the open seat for the GOP.

· 1984, West Virginia: Democrat Jennings Randolph won a special election in 1958 and four full terms in 1960, 1966, 1972, and 1978. Jay Rockefeller won the open seat race.

· 1996, Georgia: Democrat Sam Nunn was elected via special election in 1972 for the last few months of the term and then four full terms in 1972, 1978, 1984, and 1990. Democrat Max Cleland won Nunn's open seat race.

· 2012, North Dakota: Democrat Kent Conrad retired after five wins - one to the state's Class III seat (1986) and four to its Class I seat (1992 via special election, 1994, 2000, and 2006). Democrat Heidi Heitkamp won the open seat for her party.

Another eight elections followed the death or resignation of five-term Senators who did not serve out all of their final term.

The Senator's party won the seat in six such contests the next time it was on the ballot:

· 1944, Oregon: After the death of Republican Charles McNary in 1944, Republican Guy Cordon (who had also been appointed to the seat) won a special election that November.

· 1946, California: After the death of Republican Hiram Johnson in 1945, Republican William Knowland (who had also been appointed to the seat) won a special election in 1946 to finish the term.

· 1946, Virginia: After the death of Democrat Carter Glass in 1946 - and the subsequent appointment of Democrat Thomas Burch - Democrat A. Willis Robertson won a special election to the seat in November of that year.

· 1952, Michigan: After the death of Republican Arthur Vandenburg in 1951 - and the subsequent appointment of Democrat Blair Moody - Republican Charles Potter won the special election in 1952 to finish the term.

· 1964, New Mexico: After the death of Democrat Dennis Chavez in 1962, Republican Edwin Mechem appointed himself to the seat but Democrat Joseph Montoya won the special election in 1964 to finish Chavez's term.

· 1962, New Hampshire: After the death of Republican Styles Bridges in 1961 - and subsequent appointment of Republican Maurice Murphy - Democrat Thomas McIntyre was elected to finish the term in 1962.

· 1996, Kansas: After Bob Dole resigned in June 1996 to focus on his presidential campaign - and the subsequent appointment of GOPer Sheila Frahm - Republican Sam Brownback won a special election that November to finish Dole's term.

· 1996, Oregon: After the resignation of Republican Bob Packwood in 1995 facing expulsion by the Senate, Democrat Ron Wyden won a special election 1996 to finish his term.

Other U.S. Senators in their fifth term who are up for reelection in 2014 are Iowa Democrat Tom Harkin, Kentucky Republican Mitch McConnell, and Massachusetts Democrat John Kerry, who is expected to retire to become the next Secretary of State sometime early this year.

New Jersey Democrat Frank Lautenberg, whose seat is also up in 2014, has served five non-consecutive terms.

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