It’s been nearly 60 years since Americans have elected a freshman U.S. Senator as old as the Alabama septuagenarian

With five weeks to go before Alabama’s Republican U.S. Senate primary runoff, former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore appears to be maintaining the edge he demonstrated in his plurality winning performance in last week’s primary.

Moore won 38.9 percent of the primary vote with Senator Luther Strange receiving 32.8 percent, and the winner of the September 26th runoff will move on to the special election in December against Democratic attorney Doug Jones.

While both candidates have conservative credentials, the selection of Moore as the GOP nominee next month would not only be a rejection of the GOP’s establishment pick, but it would set Moore on a path to become one of the oldest freshman U.S. Senators in the chamber’s history.

If his campaign is successful, Moore would be 70 years, 10 months, and 2 days old upon entering the U.S. Senate, and the oldest to be elected to the position in nearly 60 years.

The last freshman lawmaker who was elected to his or her Senate seat at an age greater than Moore’s was Alaska Democrat Ernest Gruening.

Gruening, a former territorial governor of the state, won election to the U.S. Senate in late November 1958 and was seated on the first day of the 86th Congress when Alaska achieved statehood on January 3, 1959.

Gruening was 71 years, 10 months, and 29 days old at that time and would serve 10 years before losing a bid for a third term as a write-in candidate after losing his party’s nomination to Mike Gravel in 1968.

Since Gruening, four other U.S. Senators who were seated via appointment were older than Moore:

  • Oregon Democrat Hall Lusk (March 16, 1960): 76 years, 5 months, 25 days
  • Tennessee Democrat Herbert Walters (August 20, 1963): 71 years, 9 months, 4 days
  • Massachusetts Democrat Paul Kirk (September 25, 2009): 71 years, 8 months, 7 days
  • Illinois Democrat Roland Burris (January 12, 2009): 71 years, 5 months, 13 days

Moore would be the 13th oldest freshman elected to the chamber in U.S. history and the 31st oldest overall.

Of the dozen lawmakers who were older than Moore, just five entered the chamber in the direct election era:

  • Alaska Democrat Ernest Gruening (January 3, 1959): 71 years, 10 months, 29 days
  • New York Democrat Herbert Lehman (November 9, 1949): 71 years, 5 months, 13 days
  • Oklahoma Republican Edward Moore (January 3, 1943): 71 years, 1 month, 16 days
  • West Virginia Republican Hugh Shott (November 18, 1942): 76 years, 2 months, 16 days
  • Massachusetts Republican Frederick Gillett (March 4, 1925): 73 years, 4 months, 17 days

Of the nearly 2,000 men and women to serve in the U.S. Senate since the 18th Century, just 40 entered the U.S. Senate at the age of 70+ years old. Nineteen were elected and 21 were appointed.

West Virginia has tallied the most septuagenarian freshmen U.S. Senators with four (Samuel Price in 1876, Nathan Goff in 1913, Joseph Rosier in 1941, Hugh Shott in 1942) while Vermont has had three (Samuel Crafts in 1841, Jonathan Ross in 1899, and John Stewart in 1908).

The five oldest freshmen were all appointed to their seats:

  • Georgia Democrat Rebecca Felton (1922): 87 years, 3 months, 24 days
  • Texas Democrat Andrew Houston (1941): 86 years, 10 months, 1 day
  • Vermont Republican John Stewart (1908): 82 years, 4 months, 1 day
  • Nebraska Democrat William Thompson (1933): 79 years, 5 months, 11 days
  • New Jersey Republican David Baird (1918): 78 years, 10 months, 17 days

Wisconsin Republican Isaac Stephenson – ranked sixth – won a special election to fill the seat after the resignation of John Spooner in 1907 at the age of 77 years and 11 months. Stephenson was reelected by the Badger State legislature in 1909 and served until 1915.

Moore would not be the oldest freshman U.S. Senator in Alabama history – he would rank third.

Democrat Edmund Pettus (1897-1907) was elected to the U.S. Senate and began his service at the age of 75 years, 7 months, 27 days (#12 all-time) and Democrat Braxton Comer (1920-1920) was appointed at the age of 71 years 3 months, 28 days (#26).

Moore would be the oldest Republican freshman U.S. Senator elected to the chamber since the aforementioned West Virginian Hugh Shott in 1942. Shott is the oldest senator to win a first term in the chamber via direct election.

Follow Smart Politics on Twitter.


  1. nikoli orr on August 23, 2017 at 12:37 am

    1. Not surprisingly, the bulk of those on the aforementioned list are caretaker appointees and (partial) one-termers, though the 49th State’s inaugural Senator Gruening did manage to serve longer than 6 years.
    2. Moore does seem to be the odds-on favourite, at least for the September runoff, since appointed Senator Strange does have the (discredited ex-guv) Bentley Millstone around his neck, even if “mister ‘beautiful Confederate monuments'” himself evidently is not a local albatross.

  2. John Chessant on April 4, 2018 at 8:24 pm

    An uncomfortable title, given what we learned two months after this piece was published.

    • Eric Ostermeier on April 5, 2018 at 6:03 am

      Very true – this report was definitely not meant to be prescient in that regard.

      • John Chessant on April 5, 2018 at 1:27 pm

        Speaking of recent developments, Phil Bredesen (who will turn 75 in November) is faring better than expected in the Senate election in Tennessee. While he still has an uphill climb, prediction markets are currently putting his chances at over 40%. According to your list, Bredesen would be:
        *the 13th-oldest senator ever to be sworn-in
        *the oldest senator to be sworn-in since 1960
        *the fourth-oldest senator ever first-elected
        *the second-oldest senator ever first-popularly-elected (behind Hugh Shott, who won an end-of-term special election and served less than two months)

Leave a Comment