Two U.S. Senators from the same state go down in defeat in the same cycle for the first time in more than 60 years

The victories by Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock against Republican Senators David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler respectively in Tuesday’s runoff  collectively put their names in the record books.

As highlighted by Smart Politics last month, for just the third time in U.S. Senate history, voters have sent home two sitting U.S. Senators from the same state in the same cycle.

The last time a challenging party unseated two incumbents was more than 60 years ago – in West Virginia in 1958.

In that general election, Democratic U.S. Representative Robert Byrd handily defeated Senator W. Chapman Revercomb by 18.4 points while former U.S. Representative Jennings Randolph beat appointed Senator John Hoblitzell by 18.7 points in the special.

The only other instance in which two U.S. Senators were defeated occurred in Indiana in 1916.

In that cycle, two Republican challengers narrowly ousted two first-term Democratic incumbents: former RNC Chair Harry New over John Kern by 1.6 points in the general and former U.S. Representative James Watson over appointed Senator Thomas Taggart by 1.4 points in the special.

There have been three other cases since 1913 in which the challenging party picked off both seats – each involved one incumbent and one open seat:

  • Kentucky (1956): Former Republican U.S. Representative Thruston Morton by 0.7 points over Senator Earle Clements in the general and former GOP U.S. Senator John Cooper by 6.5 points over former Governor Lawrence Wetherby in the special.
  • Minnesota (1978): Republican businessman Rudy Boschwitz by 16.2 points over ‘self-appointed’ Senator Wendy Anderson in the general and Republican attorney Dave Durenberger by 26.9 points over frequent sports franchise owner Bob Short in the special.
  • Tennessee (1994): Republican physician Bill Frist by 14.3 points over U.S. Senator James Sasser in the general and actor Fred Thompson by 21.8 points over U.S. Representative Jim Cooper in the special.

The Democratic sweep in Georgia also continues the voter tradition of not splitting tickets when there is more than one U.S. Senate election on a state’s ballot.

Since the beginning of the direct election era in 1913, there have now been 57 instances in which a state hosted U.S. Senate elections for each of its seats, with nominees being elected from two different parties just eight times – and not once over the last half-century.

Democrats have won both seats 25 times, Republicans won both 24 times, with the two parties splitting eight times.

The last instance of a state splitting its vote for its two U.S. Senate seats on the same ballot took place in South Carolina 55 years ago.

In November 1966, the Palmetto State reelected Democrat-turned-Republican Strom Thurmond while former Democratic Governor Fritz Hollings won the special election triggered by the death of Democrat Olin Johnston in April 1965.

Hollings narrowly defeated Democratic-turned-Republican State Senator Marshall Parker by 2.7 points while Thurmond – himself running for the first time as a GOPer – easily beat State Senator Bradley Morrah by 24.4 points.

Each of the subsequent 13 instances in which both U.S. Senate seats were on the ballot a single party prevailing – in Alabama (1978, Democrats), Minnesota (1978, GOP), California (1992, Democrats), Tennessee (1994, GOP), Kansas (1996, GOP), Mississippi (2008, GOP), Wyoming (2008, GOP), New York (2010, Democrats), Oklahoma (2014, GOP), South Carolina (2014, GOP), Minnesota (2018, Democrats), Mississippi (2018, GOP), and Georgia (2020, Democrats).

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  1. Flickertail-Pembina on January 7, 2021 at 12:22 am

    MN nearly had two (un-elected) incumbent senators losing at the ballot box in 1978; appointee Muriel Humphrey did not immediately decide to stand down upon her appointnent to her husband’s former seat.

    Would this not be the FIRST time that this phenomenon occurred in an ODD-# year?

    Is outgoing Senator Perdue considered a 1-term senator – or a TWO-termer (he began service on the 3rd or 4th of 01 of 2015)?

    • Dr Eric Ostermeier on January 7, 2021 at 7:48 am

      Technically, at the time of the runoff, Perdue was not even an incumbent with his term ending 1/3/21. So “former 1-term senator” would also be an apt description. But for the purposes of this analysis – given Perdue was a sitting U.S. Senator standing for reelection this cycle – I am characterizing Democrats as having knocked two incumbents out of office.

  2. Flickertail-Pembina on January 7, 2021 at 8:57 pm

    Thanks ☆. I should have consulted Wikipedia rather than over-rely on general media outlets, which incorrectly described Perdue as the ‘incumbent’ even past the Second of January. [ With the Senate elections finally finished, 6 persons have been confirmed to have lost bids as elected incumbents (Gardner and Jones), appointees (McSally and Loeffler), or former occupants (Perdue and Jefferson Beauregard Sessions of AL, in primary runoff last summer). ]

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