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A Democratic Sweep On Election Day Could Set Off Chain Reaction For Local Pols

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Michael Capuano, Bernie Sanders and Marty Walsh could be on the move if there's a Democratic sweep on Election Day.
AP photos, Brendan Lynch photo illustration

In recent weeks, several Boston-area political operatives have made similar, half-joking comments to me. If Democrats really do ride a huge anti-Trump wave on November 8 and regain the majority in the U.S. House of Representatives, these aides say, that would probably make Somerville’s Rep. Michael Capuano happy enough to keep running for re-election.

Which would suck for them, because their bosses are all hoping to run for Congress when Capuano retires.

As I say, these operatives were mostly kidding. I think.

Regardless, these are the times that start speculation stirring, and New England is not immune from it—even though very few of the region’s elected representatives in Washington may change.

Democrats would need to gain more than 30 seats to retake control of the House—and return Capuano to a position of backroom prominence that he enjoyed when Rep. Nancy Pelosi previously served as speaker.

That scenario remains unlikely, according to experts such as Stuart Rothenberg and Charlie Cook.

But if it does happen, the Democrat-dominated House delegations from the region will get a new spring in their step. Stuck in the minority since 2011, they’ll no longer stand by helplessly as Republicans stymie their agenda.

Several of them have never experienced being in the majority: Reps. Katherine Clark, Joe Kennedy, Bill Keating, and Seth Moulton of Massachusetts; Rep. David Cicilline of Rhode Island; Rep. Ann McLane Kluster of New Hampshire; and Rep. Elizabeth Esty of Connecticut.

Others have been waiting for a chance to flex their long-earned seniority. Depending on how things shake out, Rep. Richard Neal of Western Massachusetts could finally become chair of the House Ways & Means Committee. Connecticut’s Rep. Rose DeLauro would become one of the top members of the Appropriations Committee.  

While a change in House control remains a long shot, Democrats are far more optimistic about gaining the majority in the Senate. And that could have significant meaning for New England.

Democrats need to gain four seats to reach 50 of 100 in the Senate. If Clinton wins the presidency, Vice President Tim Kaine would serve as president of the Senate and cast the tie-breaking vote for Democrats—with New York’s Sen. Chuck Schumer expected to take over as majority leader.

With several Democratic elders statesmen retiring this year—Sens. Harry Reid of Nevada, Barbara Mikulski of Maryland, Barbara Boxer of California—and a variety of wild cards to play out, a few New England Senators could end up very happy in the resulting reshuffle of committee chairs.

Vermont’s Sen. Patrick Leahy—already holding the top seniority position in the Senate—is expected to become chair of the Judiciary Committee, where he would usher through Clinton nominations to federal courts, including, most likely, the seat still open on the Supreme Court since Antonin Scalia’s death.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, the suddenly hot-property junior senator from Vermont, is also in for a prime position. As current Speaker Paul Ryan said last week—in what was meant as a warning to Republican voters—the notoriously left-leaning Sanders is in line to chair the Budget Committee.

But that’s actually his backup plan. There is a decent chance that Sanders could get what he really wants: the gavel of the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pension (HELP). That’s the committee Ted Kennedy chaired several times; so did Vermonter James Jeffords.

The giddiness of Vermont’s Senators, if Democrats win back the chamber, might be equaled by the duo from Rhode Island, depending on how things break.

Sen. Jack Reed, the current Ranking Member of the Armed Services Committee, is expected to take over as chair if given the chance.

And, depending on the choices of a few more senior members, there is a good chance that Boxer’s retirement will cause the gavel of the Committee on Environment and Public Works to fall into the lap of climate-change-obsessed Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse.

Of course, all of these projections might need to be re-calculated depending on what happens in the third part of this potential shake-up: the new Clinton administration.

Reed, for one, is a perennial subject of rumors whenever a Democratic president needs a Secretary of State or Defense. Others, from the Senate and House, could also be on short lists.

So, too, could others in the very large circles of Clinton friends around New England, from fundraisers angling for ambassadorships, to some of the bosses of those operatives I mentioned up top.

One of the most persistent, if somewhat unlikely, rumors has Boston Mayor Marty Walsh heading to Washington, perhaps to head up something in housing or labor relations.

If that does happen, many of those pols waiting to run for Capuano’s House seat could just go ahead and run for mayor. A Democratic takeover of Washington might close some windows of opportunity, but would open up plenty of others.

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