Of the 50 presidential candidacies by sitting U.S. Senators since 1972, only one saw a candidate resign before Election Day – and that was after securing his party’s nomination

With Jeb Bush struggling in the polls, Marco Rubio has seemingly been crowned the ‘establishment favorite’ for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination, but this week his campaign ran into a political road bump with the editorial board at the Fort Lauderdale Sun Sentinel calling on him to resign for his missed votes, committee hearings, and national security debriefings.

The paper, which endorsed Rubio in 2010, didn’t take a position that all officeholders running for president should resign even though various media tallies show Rubio and Texas’ Ted Cruz have missed a similar number of votes (nearly five-dozen this year) with South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham coming in at about two-thirds that amount and Vermont’s Bernie Sanders and Kentucky’s Rand Paul missing only a few handfuls of votes.

But it is Rubio – the lone Senator in the 2016 field guaranteed to exit the chamber by January 2017 – who is taking the brunt of criticism on this front, due in part to his professed distaste for the job, which may or may not be a strategic move to brand himself as more of a political outsider to the GOP primary electorate.

However, actual frustrations Rubio has with the institution aside, it would be extremely unusual for Rubio to resign from his seat while running for president – even for a legislator whose term will end in approximately 14 months.

Smart Politics examined the 50 presidential candidacies by sitting U.S. Senators since 1972 and found that only one of these candidates – Bob Dole in 1996 – resigned from his seat before the presidential election, and that was only after the end of the primary season.

As Smart Politics previously reported, between 1972 and 2012 a total of 50 sitting or former U.S. Senators from 31 states ran for president a collective 62 times with only one winner – Barack Obama in 2008.

From 1972 through the 2016 cycle, there have been 50 presidential candidacies by 45 sitting U.S. Senators – and only one of these resigned before the presidential election.

In June 1996, with the GOP nomination already secured, Kansas’ Bob Dole resigned from his seat a week after the last batch of presidential primaries.

Over the last 40+ years no other sitting U.S. Senator running for the White House cut short their day job before the presidential election. (Barack Obama of Illinois and Hillary Clinton of New York resigned from their seats after the 2008 presidential election).

Like Rubio, several of these U.S. Senators were running for president in cycles in which their term in the nation’s upper legislative chamber was coming to an end – 12 in all:

  • Four opted not to run for reelection: Democrat Fred Harris of Oklahoma (1972), North Carolina Democrat John Edwards (2004), Florida Democrat Bob Graham (2004), and Florida Republican Marco Rubio (2016)
  • Seven failed in their presidential bids but still won reelection to their U.S. Senate seats that cycle: West Virginia Democrat Robert Byrd (1976), Texas Democrat Lloyd Bentsen (1976), Washington Democrat Scoop Jackson (1976), Kansas Republican Bob Dole (1980), Texas Republican Phil Gramm (1996), Utah Republican Orrin Hatch (2000), and Delaware Democrat Joe Biden (2008)
  • One is currently running for both offices: Kentucky Republican Rand Paul (2016)

After failed presidential bids, six other U.S. Senators opted not to run again when their seat came up for reelection either two or four years down the line:

  • Iowa Democrat Harold Hughes (1972) in 1974
  • Tennessee Republican Howard Baker (1980) in 1984
  • Colorado Democrat Gary Hart (1984) in 1986
  • Connecticut Democrat Chris Dodd (2008) in 2010
  • Indiana Democrat Evan Bayh (2008, exploratory bid) in 2010
  • Kansas Republican Sam Brownback (2008) in 2010

Of the remaining presidential candidacies by sitting U.S. Senators since 1972, most went on to win reelection to their seat, but a few were not so fortunate:

  • Indiana Democrat Vance Hartke (1972) lost in 1976
  • Idaho Democrat Frank Church (1976) lost in 1980
  • Indiana Democrat Birch Bayh (1976) lost in 1980
  • New Hampshire Republican Bob Smith (2000) lost his party’s nomination in 2002

Connecticut Democrat Joe Lieberman (2004) also lost his party’s nomination in 2006, but won reelection as an independent that November.

Twenty other failed presidential candidates won reelection to the U.S. Senate a collective 21 times the next time their seat came up on the ballot:

  • South Dakota Democrat George McGovern (1972) in 1974
  • Minnesota Democrat Hubert Humphrey (1972) in 1976
  • Maine Democrat Ed Muskie (1972) in 1976
  • Washington Democrat Scoop Jackson (1972) in 1976
  • Massachusetts Democrat Ted Kennedy (1980) in 1982
  • Connecticut Republican Lowell Weicker (1980) in 1982
  • South Dakota Republican Larry Pressler (1980) in 1984
  • Ohio Democrat John Glenn (1984) in 1986
  • California Democrat Alan Cranston (1984) in 1986
  • South Carolina Democrat Fritz Hollings (1984) in 1986
  • Tennessee Democrat Al Gore (1988) in 1990
  • Illinois Democrat Paul Simon (1988) in 1990
  • Delaware Democrat Joe Biden (1988) in 1990
  • Kansas Republican Bob Dole (1988) in 1992
  • Nebraska Democrat Bob Kerrey (1992) in 1994
  • Iowa Democrat Tom Harkin (1992) in 1996
  • Pennsylvania Republican Arlen Specter (1996) in 1998
  • Indiana Republican Dick Lugar (1996) in 2000
  • Arizona Republican John McCain (2000, 2008) in 2004 and 2010
  • Massachusetts Democrat John Kerry (2004) in 2008

Assuming they do not win the presidency this cycle, the reelection fates of Rand Paul (2016), Ted Cruz (2018), Bernie Sanders (2018), and Lindsey Graham (2020) remain to be seen.

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  1. Nikoli Orr on October 28, 2015 at 6:22 pm

    1. Brownback (R-KS) should not be grouped with Bayh The Younger, et.al., for, though he indeed did not stand for re-election to his own seat in 2010 after his dismal ’08 POTUS bid, he did seek (and won) another elective office in the same year – something not true of the others.
    2. Dole, along with Representatives Steve Largent in 2001-02 and Jay Inslee in 2011-12, made the arguably honourable decision not to shortchange their present constituents (whole of KS, part of OK and WA, respectively) in order to totally focus their quests for other (Senate to POTUS, House to GUV)) offices. Rubio, with his quasi-contempt for his current position along with his glaring neglect thereof, REALLY ought to follow their profiles of electoral integrity!

  2. […] his Smart Politics blog,  Dr. Eric J. Ostermeier from the University of Minnesota, writes that since 1972 there have been […]

  3. […] his Smart Politics blog,  Dr. Eric J. Ostermeier from the University of Minnesota, writes that since 1972 there have been […]

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