Byrd Truly the Elder Statesman

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Robert C. Byrd, a champion of classical oratory in the Senate and pork barrel spending back home, yesterday became the longest-serving senator in U.S. history.

The West Virginia Democrat marked his 17,327th day in the Senate by visiting his wife's grave and then listening to several colleagues praise his career. Uncharacteristically for a man who has rhapsodized about spring, Mother's Day and countless other topics in the Senate chamber, Byrd left the floor without speaking, struggling to maintain his composure.

"My darling wife, I just wish she had lived to see this day," he told reporters as he left. Erma Ora James Byrd, who died March 25, would have turned 89 yesterday.

Byrd, 88, eclipsed the late Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.) in Senate tenure. He long has held the record for the most Senate votes cast, and Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) said yesterday that he "has held more leadership positions than any other senator."

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