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Stevens becomes longest serving Republican

Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) today celebrated a milestone by becoming the longest serving Republican in chamber history, surpassing the late Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.).

Stevens still trails the late Thurmond in total number of days in the Senate, as the South Carolinian spent his first 9 years or so in the chamber as a Democrat before switching parties. Despite more than 38 years and three months as a senator, Stevens comes in currently at seventh place in total chamber tenure.

The spry but mercurial 83-year-old, who already has launched his campaign for election next year to another six-year term, dismissed the idea that today was worthy of the standing ovation he received from his fellow senators. "I don't think I've been around that long," he told Capitol Briefing, rattling off the names of Thurmond and the five Democrats ahead of him in service.

So, what's his long-term goal in the Senate?

"I'm gonna pass 'em all," Stevens, who is fond of wearing Incredible Hulk ties, growled.

That's going to take a lot of effort on Stevens' part. As the chart below demonstrates, Stevens is about 10 years behind Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-W. Va.), and Byrd won another term last November.

If Byrd, 89, retired in the next few years rather than serve out a full term, the bigger problem for Stevens may be Sens. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), 75, and Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), 82, both elected in 1962 and therefore better positioned to surpass Byrd.

Inouye, unfortunately, is a couple months behind Kennedy in tenure because Kennedy won a special election to fill the vacancy created by his brother John's election to the presidency, so Sen. Kennedy assumed that seat immediately after the election, almost two months before Inouye was sworn into office.

The man who took Thurmond's seat, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), said of Stevens surpassing his political idol: "All records were made to be broken."

Graham, 51, would have to serve another 43 years and three months in the Senate just to overtake Thurmond for the longest serving senator from the Palmetto State. At that point, he would be just shy of his 95th birthday.

Best of luck breaking that record, Senator Graham!

Here's the chart of longest-serving senators and their years of service:

Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.)* 1/3/1959 - present 48
Strom Thurmond (D/R-S.C.) 12/14/54-4/4/56 47, 5 months, 17 days
11/7/56-1/3/03
Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.)* 11/7/62-present 44
Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii)* 1/3/63-present 44
Carl T. Hayden (D-Ariz.) 3/4/27-1/3/69 41, 9 months, 30 days
John Stennis (D-Miss.) 11/5/47-1/3/89 41, 1 month, 29 days
Ted Stevens (R-Alaska)* 12/24/68-present 38, 3 months, 19 days
Ernest Hollings (D-S.C.) 11/9/66-1/3/05 38, 1 month, 25 days
Richard Russell (D-Ga.) 1/12/33-1/21/71 38, 9 days
Russell Long (D-La.) 12/31/48-1/3/87 38, 3 days
* -- Still serving
Source: Senate Historian

By Paul Kane  |  April 12, 2007; 2:35 PM ET
Categories:  Senate  
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