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The two Senate Republican committee chairmen whose panels claim the lion’s share of jurisdiction over cybersecurity issues face a perilous path to re-election as the summer winds down and the fall election season approaches.
Senate Intelligence Chairman Richard Burr, R-N.C., seems to hold a razor-thin lead in his race against Democrat Deborah Ross, according to polling and independent analysts.
But Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Chairman Ron Johnson, R-Wis., appears to be far behind former Democratic Sen. Russell Feingold in his closely watched re-election campaign.
Their defeats in the fall, if coupled with a Democratic takeover of the Senate, would put familiar Democrats in charge of the intelligence and homeland security panels. However, the departures of Burr or Johnson would create a scramble for the top Republican spot on those committees, likely featuring senators with little visibility on cyberissues.
Further, the outgoing Republicans would turn over their Senate seats to Democrats who are likely to be far less amenable to industry’s positions in cybersecurity policy debates. Feingold, for instance, opposed the successful cybersecurity bill that Burr and Johnson worked on last year as a threat to consumers and digital privacy.
Burr and Johnson assumed their chairmanships at the beginning of 2015, and by the end of the year could claim victory on a cyberbill that provided long-sought liability protections for industry and was signed into law by the president.
That work, at least, wouldn’t be undone by the Democratic senators hoping to take over the gavels at the homeland security and intelligence panels.
If the Democrats manage to take over the Senate, Sen. Tom Carper of Delaware presumably would become homeland security chairman. Carper was instrumental in passage of the Cybersecurity Act of 2015 and is seen as one of the Senate’s leading authorities on cyberissues.
It’s unclear who would be next in line as the top Republican on the panel.