09/23/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Here's What Happens To Biden's Senate Seat If He Becomes VP

The latest question that drove political junkies to distraction was answered today when Senator Joe Biden of Delaware was named as Barack Obama's Democratic vice presidential runningmate. But the choice of Biden raises other questions. Obviously the most important is whether Obama and he can get elected. But another key question is what happens to Biden's Senate seat if they do. Biden is running for re-election to the Senate this year, as well as for vice-president.

The Democrats currently hold a slim 51-49 lead in the Senate. That's only because two senators who are Independents vote with Democrats on organizational matters. One of those independents, Joe Lieberman, is backing Obama's Republican opponent, John McCain. Lieberman is scheduled to speak at the GOP convention, and has often been mentioned as a potential GOP vice presidential candidate. Whether he'll continue to caucus with the Democrats next year is uncertain. They are sure to keep the vote of the other independent, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, a socialist,

The Democrats are expected to increase their lead in the Senate in November, but their Holy Grail is the 60 votes needed to stop future Republican filibusters like those which have blocked a good part of the majority's legislation in this session of Congress. Even if Democrats don't make 60, every Senate seat will count, and Biden's won't count any more if he's elected vice-president.

The good news for Democrats is that there's every reason to believe they'll retain his seat. That's because Biden's successor would be named by Delaware's 73-year-old Democratic governor, Ruth Ann Minner. Governor Minner is completing her second term this year and can't run for re-election. But if Biden is chosen vice president and resigns his Senate seat before her term runs out in January, she's sure to appoint another Democrat to succeed him, according to James Soles, a retired professor of political science at the University of Delaware. Soles says that even if Biden were to delay his resignation past the end of Governor Minner's term, the chances are overwhelming that her successor will be a Democrat, who would, likewise, appoint a party member.

According to state law, Biden's potential successor would serve for two years, until the next general election in 2010. After that, the seat would be up for grabs. But in recent years, the state has gone increasingly Democratic.

A Republican presidential candidate hasn't won Delaware's three electoral votes since George Bush the First in 1988. And the state has had Democratic governors for sixteen years. Before Minner, Democrat Thomas Carper served two terms as governor, and he's now the state's other senator, having been re-elected to a second term in 2006. Biden is an overwhelming favorite in his bid for a seventh Senate term. His Republican opponent, Christine O'Donnell, a conservative marketing and media consultant, has never held elective office.

The sole Republican in Delaware's three-member Congressional delegation is Representative Mike Castle. Castle was the two-term governor who preceded Carper, and he's a very popular politician, now serving his eighth term in the House. But Castle is 69 years old and suffered two minor strokes during the 2006 campaign. While he appears to have fully recovered, Prof. Soles says Castle's age and medical history make it unlikely that he would run for the Senate in two years.

None of this will make any difference, of course, unless the Obama-Biden ticket gets elected.