Only a slight majority of governors-via-succession who attempted to hold their seat in the subsequent election have been successful since 1900

If term-limited Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo is confirmed as the nation’s next U.S. Secretary of Commerce, Lieutenant Governor Daniel McKee (pictured) will get a jump-start on what was an expected 2022 gubernatorial campaign.

But if McKee is ‘elevated’ to the state’s top elected office through succession, how much of an advantage will that give him in the 2022 cycle?

The track record of U.S. Senate appointees who campaigned to keep their seat has been spotty of late with Alabama Republican Luther Strange losing his party’s nomination in 2017 and Arizona and Georgia Republicans Martha McSally and Kelly Loeffler losing at the ballot box this past cycle. [Appointees Tina Smith of Minnesota and Cindy Hyde-Smith of Mississippi were elected during this period].

For this project, Smart Politics examined the electoral fate of the 174 lieutenant governors, secretaries of state, state senate presidents, and state house speakers since 1900 who were elevated to the office of governor through a gubernatorial death, resignation, or other removal from office.

Of these 174 newly installed governors, 46 were not eligible to run in the upcoming election, having been sworn into the office either after the primary or general election (or just after the filing deadlines) or passing away in office.

For example, in May 2006, Idaho Republican Governor Dirk Kempthorne resigned after being appointed to U.S. Secretary of the Interior. Lieutenant Governor Jim Risch became governor – three days after Butch Otter won the GOP primary to become his party’s nominee in the 2006 general election.

In New Hampshire, state Senate president Chuck Morse served as Acting Governor for a few days in January 2017 following the November 2016 election of Chris Sununu, but before the new governor’s term began (exiting Governor Maggie Hassan resigned before the end of her term to join the U.S. Senate).

Of the remaining 128 elevated governors, 19 opted not to run for governor in the upcoming cycle, or approximately one in seven.

Recent examples include New Jersey Republican Donald DiFrancisco in 2001, Massachusetts Republican Jane Swift in 2002, Pennsylvania Republican Mark Schweiker in 2002, New York Democrat David Paterson in 2010 (who withdrew several months prior to the primary), and Kansas Democrat Mark Parkinson in 2010.

That leaves 109 elevated governors who attempted to retain their new seat at the next election.

Overall, only 59 of these 109 governors were successful (54.1 percent).

However, the recent trend has been more favorable to these incumbents with 14 of the last 18 winning their gubernatorial election including 12 of the last 13.

The four governors-via-succession who failed to hold their seats during the 21st Century are Republican Scott McCallum of Wisconsin in 2002, Democrat Joe Kernan of Indiana in 2004, GOPer Olene Walker of Utah in 2004, and Kansas Republican Jeff Colyer in 2018.

McCallum lost the general election to Jim Doyle by 3.7 points, Kernan lost to Mitch Daniels by 7.7 points, Walker failed to win her party’s nomination at the GOP convention, and Colyer lost his party’s primary by 0.1 points to Kris Kobach.

Since 2000, the 14 elevated governors won the next gubernatorial election are: Texas Republican Rick Perry (2002), Connecticut Republican Jodi Rell (2006), Nebraska Republican Dave Heineman (2006), Alaska Republican Sean Parnell (2010), Arizona Republican Jan Brewer (2010), Illinois Democrat Pat Quinn (2010), Utah Republican Gary Herbert (2010), West Virginia Democrat Earl Ray Tomblin (2011), North Dakota Republican Jack Dalrymple (2012), Oregon Democrat Kate Brown (2016), Alabama Republican Kay Ivey (2018), Iowa Republican Kim Reynolds (2018), South Carolina Republican Henry McMaster (2018), and Missouri Republican Mike Parson (2020).

Of the 50 elevated governors who attempted but failed to hold their seats since 1900, six lost their party’s nomination at the state convention, 15 lost their party’s primary (including three in runoffs), and 29 were defeated in the general election.

Prior to Colyer, the last such governor to lose at the primary stage was Republican Walter Miller in 1994 who was defeated by former two-term Governor Bill Janklow by 8.0 points.

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16 Comments

  1. Guest on January 21, 2021 at 8:38 pm

    For governors-via-succession who failed to hold their seats during the 21st Century, you forgot Jeff Colyer in Kansas in 2018.



    • Dr. Eric Ostermeier on January 21, 2021 at 8:50 pm

      Ah – the most recent failed attempt. Good catch, thank you – updated above.



  2. Flickertail-Pembina on January 21, 2021 at 11:25 pm

    Ruth Ann MINNER had first won in 2000! But, due to the early departure of termlimited Governor Thomas Richard Carper (having been elected to the US senate on the same day), she, as LGUV, ascended to the post nearly a fortnight before she was to have been sworn in anyway. Thus, she was an elected incumbent by election day of ’04 (technically making her a 3-term governor overall).

    Of the “elevated” governors after 1998, Janice Kay Drinkwine Warren “Jan” Brewer stands out, in that she has been the sole ascendant not to have the same partisan affiliation as her direct predecessor – for which the blame(?) ought to be borne not by her, but arguably by “44”/BHO, who evidently was indifferent to it. I would hope that “46” was full well aware of such political reality when he selected Raimondo.



    • Dr. Eric Ostermeier on January 22, 2021 at 7:36 am

      Yes, the R.A. Minner example is really it’s own unique case. You persuaded me – she should not technically count as one of the five-dozen or so since 1900 who were victorious. The data above reflects that change. Thanks!



  3. John Chessant on January 22, 2021 at 1:37 am

    McKee may face as tough a primary as a general election in 2022. Both Raimondo and McKee were challenged from the left in 2018, and while Raimondo defeated former secretary of state Matt Brown by 24 points, McKee managed only a 2-point victory over state Rep. Aaron Regunberg on the same ballot. [A similar dynamic unfolded in New York the same year, where the progressive wing was far closer to knocking off Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul than Gov. Andrew Cuomo.] Adding to McKee’s troubles are two other term-limited statewide Democratic officeholders for whom a run for an open governor’s seat would have been natural; it remains to be seen whether McKee’s early ascension will ward them off.



    • Dr. Eric Ostermeier on January 22, 2021 at 8:10 am

      Very good point. If McKee runs, his fate will almost certainly be determined in the Democratic primary – where only a handful of elevated GOVs have seen their electoral dreams dashed during the last half century (e.g. Alabama Democrat Albert Brewer in 1970 (runoff), Maryland Democrat (and Acting Governor) Francis Blair Lee in 1978, SD’s Walter Miller in 1994, and KS’s Colyer in 2018).



  4. […] ● RI-Gov: With Rhode Island Lt. Gov. Daniel McKee set to replace Gov. Gina Raimondo if she’s confirmed as Joe Biden’s new Commerce secretary, we were curious to know how well people who’ve ascended to the governorship in this manner fare when they choose to seek election in their own right. Fortunately, the University of Minnesota’s Eric Ostermeier has answered this question in depth. […]



  5. […] ● RI-Gov: With Rhode Island Lt. Gov. Daniel McKee set to exchange Gov. Gina Raimondo if she’s confirmed as Joe Biden’s new Commerce secretary, we have been curious to know the way nicely individuals who’ve ascended to the governorship on this method fare once they select to hunt election in their very own proper. Thankfully, the College of Minnesota’s Eric Ostermeier has answered this question in depth. […]



  6. […] ● RI-Gov: With Rhode Island Lt. Gov. Daniel McKee set to replace Gov. Gina Raimondo if she’s confirmed as Joe Biden’s new Commerce secretary, we were curious to know how well people who’ve ascended to the governorship in this manner fare when they choose to seek election in their own right. Fortunately, the University of Minnesota’s Eric Ostermeier has answered this question in depth. […]



  7. […] ● RI-Gov: With Rhode Island Lt. Gov. Daniel McKee set to replace Gov. Gina Raimondo if she’s confirmed as Joe Biden’s new Commerce secretary, we were curious to know how well people who’ve ascended to the governorship in this manner fare when they choose to seek election in their own right. Fortunately, the University of Minnesota’s Eric Ostermeier has answered this question in depth. […]



  8. […] ● RI-Gov: With Rhode Island Lt. Gov. Daniel McKee set to replace Gov. Gina Raimondo if she’s confirmed as Joe Biden’s new Commerce secretary, we were curious to know how well people who’ve ascended to the governorship in this manner fare when they choose to seek election in their own right. Fortunately, the University of Minnesota’s Eric Ostermeier has answered this question in depth. […]



  9. […] ● RI-Gov: With Rhode Island Lt. Gov. Daniel McKee set to replace Gov. Gina Raimondo if she’s confirmed as Joe Biden’s new Commerce secretary, we were curious to know how well people who’ve ascended to the governorship in this manner fare when they choose to seek election in their own right. Fortunately, the University of Minnesota’s Eric Ostermeier has answered this question in depth. […]



  10. […] ● RI-Gov: With Rhode Island Lt. Gov. Daniel McKee set to replace Gov. Gina Raimondo if she’s confirmed as Joe Biden’s new Commerce secretary, we were curious to know how well people who’ve ascended to the governorship in this manner fare when they choose to seek election in their own right. Fortunately, the University of Minnesota’s Eric Ostermeier has answered this question in depth. […]



  11. […] ● RI-Gov: With Rhode Island Lt. Gov. Daniel McKee set to replace Gov. Gina Raimondo if she’s confirmed as Joe Biden’s new Commerce secretary, we were curious to know how well people who’ve ascended to the governorship in this manner fare when they choose to seek election in their own right. Fortunately, the University of Minnesota’s Eric Ostermeier has answered this question in depth. […]



  12. […] ● RI-Gov: With Rhode Island Lt. Gov. Daniel McKee set to replace Gov. Gina Raimondo if she’s confirmed as Joe Biden’s new Commerce secretary, we were curious to know how well people who’ve ascended to the governorship in this manner fare when they choose to seek election in their own right. Fortunately, the University of Minnesota’s Eric Ostermeier has answered this question in depth. […]



  13. […] ● RI-Gov: With Rhode Island Lt. Gov. Daniel McKee set to replace Gov. Gina Raimondo if she’s confirmed as Joe Biden’s new Commerce secretary, we were curious to know how well people who’ve ascended to the governorship in this manner fare when they choose to seek election in their own right. Fortunately, the University of Minnesota’s Eric Ostermeier has answered this question in depth. […]