WASHINGTON (AP) — The Senate is a place where hidebound tradition mixes with raw politics, sometimes with a touch of the absurd. Then there's the "vote-a-rama."
That's the official name for the marathon voting session that accompanies the Senate's consideration of a budget. It's a side effect of special rules that govern the budget debate and allow senators to plow quickly through stacks of amendments offered in close to real time, instead of moving at a snail's pace as is more typically the Senate way.
The vote-a-rama started at noon Thursday and would end sometime late at night or early Friday morning. The last one, in 2013, stretched well past 3 a.m. More than 700 amendments had been filed Thursday as the process got under way, though not all would come to a vote.
Or as the Republicans' Budget Committee chairman, Mike Enzi of Wyoming, put it: "We'll keep voting until we're exhausted ... That's the way we do it in the Senate."
The multiple amendment votes, many requiring a simple majority to prevail, were all nonbinding and stood little chance of ever becoming law.
Despite that, or because of it, there was plenty of opportunity to score points or showcase one stance or another.
Two of the Senate's likely GOP presidential candidates, Marco Rubio of Florida and Rand Paul of Kentucky, laid down markers with amendments boosting defense spending by $76 billion in the budget. Rubio's was defeated 32-68, while the plan from Paul went down with only four "yes" votes. Paul's approach required the spending to be paid for by cutting domestic programs while Rubio's did not.
Presidential candidate Ted Cruz of Texas and potential White House hopeful Lindsey Graham of South Carolina voted for Rubio's amendment but against Paul's.
Democrats used the opportunity to try to create politically difficult votes for the Republicans who will be defending their seats in swing states next year. Next year's Senate elections will have Republicans on defense because they are trying to keep many more seats than Democrats, including seven in states that President Barack Obama won in 2012.
Sensing opportunity, Democrats advanced a series of amendments on issues aimed at middle-class voters, including jobs for veterans, paying for community college and allowing paid sick leave.
The paid sick leave amendment, by Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., hit home as it passed with 61 "yes" votes, including from the more vulnerable Republicans up for re-election in 2016: Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, Mark Kirk of Illinois, Rob Portman of Ohio and Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire.
Toomey and Johnson even switched their votes to "yes" after initially voting "no" on the amendment, though in both cases spokesmen said they simply made a mistake in their first "no" vote. "There are a lot of votes happening right now, simple mistake," said Johnson's spokeswoman, Melinda Schnell.
Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., who chairs the Senate Republicans' campaign arm, shrugged off the significance of the amendment votes on the budget. "We got elected to make tough decisions," he said.
Democratic leaders have been maneuvering to avoid messy primaries that could leave their Senate candidates bloodied going into the general election.
Not everyone is falling in line.
In the campaign to replace retiring Democratic Sen. Barbara Mikulski of Maryland, New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand announced her endorsement Thursday for Rep. Donna Edwards, the choice of many progressives. Gillibrand sent out a fundraising appeal on Edwards' behalf.
Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, on the other hand, has endorsed Rep. Chris Van Hollen in the race.
In the Senate contest in Florida, Rep. Alan Grayson said Thursday that he was seriously looking at the race and had met earlier in the week with officials from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee to discuss his plans.
A move by Grayson would complicate chances for a candidate already in the race: Rep. Patrick Murphy, who's seen as favored by Democratic leaders over the sometimes-erratic Grayson. Murphy has been endorsed by former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist.
The Florida seat is currently held by Rubio who is weighing a presidential race.