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photo of Julie Sobel
December 11, 2012

With the impending resignation of Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., all eyes are on Republican Gov. Nikki Haley as she mulls over who to appoint to his seat. There are three routes governors go in this situation: They can appoint themselves, appoint a "placeholder" who won't then run for the seat in the next election, or they can appoint a candidate that will then try to hold the seat.

Haley's already tipped her hand: She'll appoint someone who may run in the special election. Though there's often speculation that a governor will appoint him or herself to the vacancy, a look at recent appointments shows how unusual that actually is -- and Haley already ruled it out last week, along with a run in the 2014 special election (she's also up for reelection in 2014). On Monday, Haley ruled out the caretaker route as well. With Haley poised to make a decision -- which could come as soon as today, with the governor slated to hold a press conference -- and GOP freshman Rep. Tim Scott getting the most buzz otherwise as a potential choice, here's a look at the most recent Senate vacancies and how the governors handled them:

John Ensign: When the Nevada Republican senator resigned after a sex scandal (and during an ethics investigation) in 2011, then-GOP Rep. Dean Heller was already eyeing a run for his seat in 2012 regardless. The congressman was the obvious choice for Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval to nominate to the seat. Sandoval did so, and in November Heller, able to run as an incumbent, beat Democratic Rep. Shelley Berkley for a six-year term in the Senate.

Robert Byrd: When the longtime West Virginia senator died in the summer of 2010, then-Democratic Gov. Joe Manchin appointed attorney Carte Goodwin to serve as a placeholder until the fall election. Manchin then ran in the special election, defeating GOP businessman John Raese that fall and again this November, winning a full six-year term.

Ted Kennedy: When the liberal icon passed away in the summer of 2009, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick put a placeholder in his seat -- Paul Kirk, who worked for Kennedy and had served as Democratic National Committee chair. He served until early 2010, when Sen. Scott Brown, R-Mass., beat Democratic Attorney General Martha Coakley in a special election upset (Brown then lost to Sen.-elect Elizabeth Warren in the 2012 election). But the appointment process was messy: Legislators had changed the law in 2004 to prevent then-Gov. Mitt Romney from appointing a Republican to Sen. John Kerry's seat should he win the presidential race, and then changed the law back to allow Patrick to appoint someone to the seat (and there are now whispers they could change the law a third time to prevent a special election if Kerry gets nominated secretary of state).

Hillary Clinton: When Clinton was appointed Secretary of State after the 2008 election, it created a Senate vacancy in New York. Then-Democratic Gov. David Paterson eventually settled on then-Democratic Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand for the seat -- after much hype about him potentially appointing Caroline Kennedy before her eventual withdrawal from consideration. Gillibrand went on to win the special election in 2010, and got elected to a six-year term by a wide margin in 2012.

Ken Salazar: When Ken Salazar was nominated as Secretary of the Interior, after the 2008 election, Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter surprised most observers by naming Denver public schools superintendent Michael Bennet to the seat. Bennet had never run for public office before, and Ritter passed over other candidates like then-Denver mayor John Hickenlooper. But Bennet held the seat in 2010, a tough year for Democrats, and is taking over chairing the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. (Things turned out alright for Hickenlooper, too: He succeeded Ritter as governor.)

Joe Biden: When Biden became vice president, then-Delaware Gov. Ruth Ann Minner appointed a placeholder: former Biden chief of staff Ted Kaufman. Most thought he was keeping the seat warm for Attorney General Beau Biden, but the VP's son decided against a run. Democrat Chris Coons beat Republican Christine O'Donnell in the 2010 special election, but if O'Donnell hadn't beat then-GOP Rep. Mike Castle in an upset primary win, the seat would have been much harder for Democrats to hold.

Barack Obama: When Obama became president in 2008, then-Democratic Gov. Rod Blagojevich handled the appointment to fill his Senate vacancy in a famously messy way. He put Roland Burris in the Senate as a care-holder, after which Blagojevich was arrested for trying to sell the seat. He is now serving a lengthy prison sentence. To top it off, Democrats lost the seat to GOP Sen. Mark Kirk in 2010.

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