Sunday, August 20, 2017

Top 10 Longest Democratic Senate Losing Streaks

US Attorney Doug Jones (D-AL)
With the recent primaries in Alabama (I meant to get an article out about this earlier this week that didn't materialize, but you're probably going to get two in the next few days so I'm sure you'll be fine), I noticed something happen afterwards.  Political sites like Roll Call and Larry Sabato moved the Alabama Senate race from being a Solid Republican to Likely Republican.  It makes sense for them to do so on-paper at least.  At this point, the Democrats got exactly the candidate they wanted in former US Attorney Doug Jones, who can run both as a Clinton-era Democrat (he was appointed by the former POTUS), but also as a Civil Rights icon, as his most famous case was bringing the bombers of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham to justice.  This makes him the perfect candidate to go after African-American and white suburban voters in a very red state where you need to win both as a Democrat to have a chance.  The Republicans, meanwhile, will either get appointed Sen. Luther Strange (who is being linked to the scandals involving disgraced former Gov. Robert Bentley) or Chief Justice Roy Moore (whose crazy is legendary enough that I don't feel like I need to explain it, but if you don't know who he is Google can help you out there).

While a Jones victory still appears to be a longshot, you might be thinking "a Democrat representing Alabama in the Senate-impossible!" but you'd actually be wrong.  In fact, Alabama not that long ago (as recently as 1992) was represented by two Democrats in the Senate.  Jones would be ending a 25-year victory drought if he were to win, but the Yellowhammer State isn't even in the Top 10 of longest runs Democrats currently have without winning a Senate seat.  I thought it might be fun to take a look at the ten state's with the longest Democratic losing streaks in the Senate, and just how close they've come in recent years to winning back one of the seats.

I want to put in a trio of caveats before I start.  One, you'll notice I'm saying that I said "elected," not appointed.  There are cases on this list where the Democrats have held a Senate seat (through an appointment), but the Democrats haven't actually won the seat through an election.  Historically it's considerably easier for the "minority party" to win a governor's mansion than it is to win a Senate race, so this makes sense.  Secondly, I'm going to only include Democrats here, not necessarily Independents that lean Democratic or that caucused with the Democrats; several states have healthy histories with independent candidates for office, but this is focused solely on the people who have D's behind their names.  Finally, for margin-of-victories I'm only counting races between the victor and the Democrat themselves-independents who came close don't count.  That being said, I'll note any of these anomalies in the write-ups below.

Top 10 Longest Democratic Senate Losing Streaks

Vice President Al Gore (D-TN)
9 (tie). Tennessee

Last Elected a Democrat: 1990
Who Was the Last Democrat to Win: Al Gore, Jr.
Reason for Him Leaving: He became Vice President
Anyone Serve Since?: Harlan Matthews was a Democrat who succeeded Gore, but didn't stand for reelection and the seat was lost to future presidential candidate Fred Thompson.  Sen. James Sasser was serving with Gore, but lost his reelection bid during the 1994 landslide to future Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist.
Closest the Democrats Have Come Since: 2006, when the seat opened up by Frist's retirement was surprisingly close.  Republicans won with Rep. Bob Corker, but Rep. Harold Ford, Jr. was only 2.72 points behind him.
Stop the Streak?: Tennessee has a notoriously weak bench, and the Democrats probably would be better off trying for the governor's mansion with Nashville Mayor Karl Dean.  That being said, if a seat ever did open up in a friendly environment Rep. Jim Cooper (who actually ran for the Senate in 1994), is still only 63 years old and might get right-of-first-refusal.

Sen. David Boren (D-OK)
9 (tie). Oklahoma

Last Elected a Democrat: 1990
Who Was the Last Democrat to Win: David Boren
Reason for Him Leaving: Boren retired to become the President of the University of Oklahoma, a position the beloved former governor has held for 23 years.
Anyone Serve Since?: Nope-Boren won by a 60-point margin but wasn't able to ever get another Democrat elected to the Senate.
Closest the Democrats Have Come Since: Not very, to be honest.  One of only two states on this list where the Democrats haven't gotten within 10 points since, the only remotely close election was in 2004, when former Rep. Tom Coburn beat incumbent Rep. Brad Carson by 11.56 points.
Stop the Streak?: Considering there was just an open seat and no major Democrats in the state were interested, this is again a seat that the governor's mansion would be an easier sell for the Democrats and they do have a decent candidate in former Attorney General Drew Edmondson.  If they were to make a challenge, their best bets are Edmondson, former Sen. Boren's son Dan Boren, himself a retired member of Congress, or former Gov. Brad Henry (who is still only 54 and was quite well-liked in office).  There was quite a bit of courting of Henry when Coburn retired, but to no avail for the Democrats wandering in the wilderness of the Sooner State.

Sen. Lloyd Bentsen (D-TX), right,
with Gov. Michael Dukakis
6 (tie). Texas

Last Elected a Democrat: 1988
Who Was the Last Democrat to Win: Lloyd Bentsen, Jr.
Reason for Him Leaving: Was appointed by President Clinton to serve as Secretary of the Treasury.
Anyone Serve Since? Yes-former Ambassador Bob Kruegger was briefly appointed to fill Bentsen's seat, but then lost in a landslide against Kay Bailey Hutchison.
Closest the Democrats Have Come Since: Again, not that close.  The Democrats watched Kruegger lose by an embarrassingly large margin in 1993, and the closest they have come since was oddly three years later, when Sen. Phil Gramm beat Victor Morales by 10.84 points.  It's quite probable that had Morales not pulled off a monumental upset in 1996's primary over Rep. John Bryant that that race would have been a lot closer (Morales, who went from a school teacher to political celebrity that year, has had a long, unsuccessful career as a Democratic candidate for office in the Lone Star State).
Stop the Streak? Honestly, it does appear likely that we'll have our closest race since Bentsen next year.  The Democrats have a better environment in 2018, and Hillary Clinton lost Texas by less than 10 points, the first Democratic presidential candidate to do that since her husband in 1996.  The Democrats seem likely to nominate Rep. Beto O'Rourke, the first incumbent Democratic member of Congress to run for the Senate in Texas since Bryant.

Sen. George Mitchell (D-ME)
6 (tie). Maine

Last Elected a Democrat: 1988
Who Was the Last Democrat to Win: George Mitchell
Reason for Him Leaving: He retired as part of the mass exodus of 1994 (he was the Senate Majority Leader at the time).
Anyone Serve Since? No Democrats, but Sen. Angus King, who is up for reelection next year, is an Independent who caucuses with the Democrats.
Closest the Democrats Have Come Since: The only state on this list that Hillary Clinton won, Maine is a weird anomaly aided by a long and successful tenure by two women: Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, both of whom have used their popularity to defy the odds in the Pine Tree State.  The closest race since Mitchell's last victory was in 1994, when Collins defeated former Rep. Joseph Brennan by 5.3 points.
Stop the Streak? It seems probable that the next opening in the state goes to the Democrats, though considering that Hillary Clinton won the state by a slim margin in 2016, not a guarantee.  King seems a likely victor in 2018, but Collins could either retire, run for governor, or be vulnerable in 2020 if Trump continues to be an issue, opening up a seat for a number of ambitious pols in the state, though Rep. Chellie Pingree (who lost in Collins in 1996) would get right-of-first-refusal.

Sen. Dennis DeConcini (D-AZ)
6 (tie). Arizona

Last Elected a Democrat: 1988
Who Was the Last Democrat to Win: Dennis DeConcini
Reason for Him Leaving: I'd suspect in part he retired because of his connection to the Keating Five, though we'll never know if he would have won in 1994 since he left office at a relatively young age (my opinion is Jon Kyi would have destroyed him in the Republican Revolution).
Anyone Serve Since? Nope-since DeConcini left office the Arizona Senate seats have remained pretty stable, with only three men serving in 23 years.
Closest the Democrats Have Come Since: I always forget just how close the Democrats came to claiming this seat in 2012, with former Surgeon General Richard Carmona losing by just 3.03 points to then-Rep. Jeff Flake.
Stop the Streak? If the Democrats are going to ever do it, it's going to be this year.  As we highlighted earlier this week, Jeff Flake is in the precarious position of being challenged from the Right (State Sen. Kelli Ward, likely aided by President Trump) and the left (all signs point to yes for Rep. Kyrsten Sinema to run for the Senate).  Should 2018 prove to be a Democratic year at all, it's probable that Flake won't be able to survive depressed turnout if Sinema lives up to her promise as a candidate.

Sen. John Stennis (D-MS), right,
with President Ronald Reagan
5. Mississippi

Last Elected a Democrat: 1982
Who Was the Last Democrat to Win: John Stennis
Reason for Him Leaving: He was 88 at the time of his retirement (though he did live long enough to have made it through his next term).  He likely wouldn't have been a Democrat in the modern-era, however, being a noted Segregationist who served for 41 years in the Senate, then second only to Carl Hayden.
Anyone Serve Since? Nope-the seats have changed hands a few times since, but despite a couple of Democratic governors none of them appointed D's to the Senate.
Closest the Democrats Have Come Since: The initial election to succeed Stennis was the closest the Democrats have come since, with Rep. Trent Lott defeating incumbent Rep. Wayne Dowdy by 7.82 points.
Stop the Streak? The Democrats have hardly had a lack of good candidates (people like Dowdy, Gov. Ronnie Musgrove, and Rep. Travis Childers were not lightweights), but Mississippi is just impenetrable.  Attorney General Jim Hood is probably going to run for governor in two years, but who knows if he might be talked into taking on an open seat in 2020 if Thad Cochran were to retire.

Sen. Frank Church (D-ID), right,
with President Jimmy Carter
4. Idaho

Last Elected a Democrat: 1974
Who Was the Last Democrat to Win: Frank Church
Reason for Him Leaving: I'm genuinely surprised it took this long, but Church is the first "most recent Democrat" to go down in a blaze of glory on this list, losing his reelection bid in 1980.
Anyone Serve Since? No-weirdly Larry Craig didn't actually resign after his Minneapolis airport "wide stance" incident (I always think he did), so there hasn't even been an appointment in 43 years.
Closest the Democrats Have Come Since: Sen. Steve Symms served two terms as a senator in Idaho, and was perhaps even too conservative for the Gem State (Symms' became notorious for smearing Kitty Dukakis with lies during the 1988 presidential election), winning both of those races by slim margins; in 1980 he defeated Sen. Church by less than a point and beat Gov. John Evans in 1986 by 3.12 points.
Stop the Streak? Since Symms' retirement there's never been any real jeopardy, and honestly there's not really a bench for Idaho Democrats.  There's an open gubernatorial election next year, and the best the Democrats in the state seem likely to do is get a member of the Boise School Board.  It'll probably take a massive scandal and a deep-pocketed Blue Dog to finally end this run.

Sen. Gale McGee (D-WY), right, with
President John F. Kennedy
2 (tie). Wyoming

Last Elected a Democrat: 1970
Who Was the Last Democrat to Win: Gale McGee
Reason for Him Leaving: McGee wasn't able to handle an impressive use of television advertising from Malcolm Wallop even in a Democratic year, losing by nearly ten points.
Anyone Serve Since? No-we've had a few appointments since, but Wyoming has laws about a Senate seat changing hands through an appointment so what would have been a pickup upon the death of Sen. Craig Thomas ended up being status quo in terms of partisan makeup.
Closest the Democrats Have Come Since: By far the closest the Democrats have come since was in 1988, when Sen. Wallop nearly lost in a major upset against State Sen. John Vinich, winning by just over 1300 votes (less than a percentage point even in sparsely-populated Wyoming), after an election where Vinich ran as a moderate populist against Wallop, who had become more noted for national than local concerns, a big no-no in a rural state.
Stop the Streak? Honestly, it's one of the most conservative states in the country, so I doubt it.  Popular former Gov. Dave Freudenthal is always a possibility (he's only 66) to take a shot at an open seat if Mike Enzi retires, but he'd have to take on Rep. Liz Cheney to make a play, something unlikely to happen.

Sen. Frank Moss (D-UT)
2 (tie). Utah

Last Elected a Democrat: 1970
Who Was the Last Democrat to Win: Frank Moss
Reason for Him Leaving: Moss, like Church and McGee, also lost in his reelection bid, here being taken out by Orrin Hatch, who is still in office.
Anyone Serve Since? Nope-the other seat hasn't had a Democrat in it since the Korean War.
Closest the Democrats Have Come Since: Despite it being a Democratic year Moss got hammered in 1976, losing by double digits, but the same cannot be said for the 1974 race, where an open seat nearly went blue, as Republican Mayor Jake Garn beat Rep. Wayne Owens by 5.92 points (Owens would later run successfully for his old House seat in the mid-80's).
Stop the Streak? With the Republicans holding every statewide office and House seat in the state, about the only person who could potentially make a Democratic race statewide is former Rep. Jim Matheson.  Matheson has actually been rumored for the seat if Sen. Orrin Hatch retires (I can't tell anymore which way the wind is blowing on that one, but I'm guessing a primary loss is more likely than a retirement at this point), but it'd take a miracle for him to actually win even with his personal popularity.

Sen. George McGill (D-KS), center with future
Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson and
Attorney General Homer S. Cummings
1. Kansas

Last Elected a Democrat: 1932 (that's not a typo-Kansas hasn't had a Democratic senator in 85 years)
Who Was the Last Democrat to Win: George McGill, so Kansas' last Democratic senator was born when Rutherford B. Hayes was still in office.
Reason for Him Leaving: He lost reelection.
Anyone Serve Since? Nope-though Kansas has had Democratic governors since, none of them have appointed Democratic senators.  The other Senate seat has been red since before World War I ended.
Closest the Democrats Have Come Since: The closest the Democrats have come was in 1974, in the wake of Watergate, when Sen. Bob Dole barely won a second term to Rep. Bill Roy (a 1.7 point win for the GOP).  It's quite probable that the Republican party would look very different today if Roy had managed the upset over Dole, who after his slim victory was on the GOP ticket twice (1976 and 1996) and ran the Republican caucus in the Senate for nearly a decade.
Stop the Streak? It's a long streak for a reason.  Democrats have reason to be optimistic about a few races in 2018 (they've got two decent House candidates and a solid pair of gubernatorial challengers), but it'll take a miracle for this not to go a full century.

There you have it-the ten longest Republican winning streaks in the Senate.  Which do you think will be the first to end?  Share your thoughts below in the comments!

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