If, as the polls indicate, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) loses his bid for the presidency he will also likely preside over a shrunken Republican presence on the Senate Armed Services Committee.
I hadn't heard much from the Senate about just how the election might affect it so I called a congressional aide who keeps a pretty keen eye on his bosses doings. If the Democrats sweep up seats as the latest polls indicate likely they will win at least 55 seats and have a reasonable chance of winning another five seats.
Currently, there are 25 senators on the Senate Armed Services Committee, 13 Democrats and 12 Republicans. If the 49 GOP senators are reduced by more than three then Sen. McCain may find the number of his colleagues reduced by two. It is a brutal but simple fact that parties apportion committee seats according to their numbers and the majority gets to pick the numbers.
Which Republicans on the committee are at risk? Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) is in a dead heat against challenger Tom Martin, having lost a substantial lead of almost 10 points as the economy has tanked. The most junior Republican on the SASC, George Wicker, is virtually tied with former governor George Musgrove, Wicker was appointed to the Senate on the retirement of former Sen. Trent Lott. And, as we've heard quite a bit about in the last week in the national media, Sen. Elizabeth Dole (R-NC), is trailing challenger Kay Hagan by five points.
Aside from the loss of institutional knowledge, the GOP's reduction would mean they have less chance to influence legislation and will find it proportionally difficult to thwart the Democrats. Should the Democrats achieve the magical number of 60 seats, they will in theory have the numbers necessary to override much opposition and make many bills veto-proof. Of course, this being the Senate, there will always be idiosyncratic positions adopted by lawmakers of conscience so it won't look like what can by the tyranny of the majority as seen in the House.
Chambliss would be the biggest loss to the committee, having been the most active of the three on defense issues. In addition to his advocacy on defense issues, he is also a member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.
For those of us who have watched the committee for more than a decade, the biggest loss may well be the departure of Sen. John Warner (R-Va.), who has worked hand in glove with McCain on major defense issues for as long as the two men have known each other. Warner's courtly demeanor, combined with his rational and quietly tough approach on the issues has made him a senator worthy of emulation.