There have been three-dozen pairs of ex-governor U.S. Senate delegations during the direct election era, including two in the 117th Congress

Republicans have so far seen five U.S. Senators up for reelection in 2022 announce their retirements including lawmakers in battleground states like North Carolina (Richard Burr) and Pennsylvania (Pat Toomey).

One of the few targets of opportunity for the GOP next year lies in the state of New Hampshire, where possible challengers against incumbent Maggie Hassan are former Senator Kelly Ayotte and current Governor Chris Sununu.

Now in his third term, Governor Sununu remains quite popular in the state and a recent St. Anselm College horserace poll found Sununu six points ahead of Hassan in an early hypothetical matchup.

Hassan is one of 13 former governors currently serving in the U.S. Senate and New Hampshire is one of two states in which they hold both seats (along with Jeanne Shaheen). Virginia’s delegation is the other with Mark Warner and Tim Kaine.

Colorado (John Hickenlooper), Delaware (Tom Carper), Florida (Rick Scott), Idaho (Jim Risch), Maine (Angus King), North Dakota (John Hoeven), South Dakota (Mike Rounds), Utah (Mitt Romney), and West Virginia (Joe Manchin) are also former governors.

New Hampshire has had at least one ex-governor serve in the nation’s upper legislative chamber since 1993 when Republican Judd Gregg took office.

Gregg (1993-2011) overlapped two years with Shaheen (2009-present) and Shaheen has served alongside Hassan since 2017.

Overall, 36 different pairs of former governors have served alongside each other in their state’s delegation across 22 states since 1913.

The longest serving duo of ex-governors is Republican Strom Thurmond and Democrat Fritz Hollings who represented South Carolina in the chamber for 36 years, 1 month, and 26 days. [The duo also holds the record for longest service among any two delegation members in U.S. Senate history, former governors or otherwise].

South Carolina also holds the mark for the longest stretch of having an all ex-governor U.S. Senate delegation in the direct election era at 46 years, 1 month, and 28 days from November 7, 1956 through January 3, 2003. [Note: This streak would have lasted more than 57 years all the way back to January 3, 1945 had Strom Thurmond not resigned his seat in April 1956 and been out of office for approximately seven months].

During the 21st Century, five pairs of former governors have served in the U.S. Senate.

In addition to Gregg/Shaheen, Shaheen/Hassan, and Warner/Kaine, the other two are:

  • Nebraska: (2009-2013): Democrat Ben Nelson (2001-2013) and Republican Mike Johanns (2009-2015)
  • West Virginia (2010-2015): Democrats Jay Rockefeller (1985-2015) and Joe Manchin (2010-present)

New Hampshire has had the largest number of different ex-governor delegations at five:

  • 1933-1937: Republican Henry Keyes and Democrat Fred Brown
  • 1937-1939: Democrat Fred Brown and Republican Styles Bridges
  • 1939-1953: Republicans Styles Bridges and Charles Tobey
  • 2009-2011: Republican Judd Gregg and Democrat Jeanne Shaheen
  • 2017-present: Democrats Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan

In total, 14 of these 36 pairs of ex-governor U.S. Senate delegations have been members of different political parties.

In addition to the aforementioned Keyes/Brown, Brown/Bridges, and Gregg/Shaheen delegations in New Hampshire, Thumond/Hollings in South Carolina, and Nelson/Johanns in Nebraska, the remaining pairs include:

  • Massachusetts (1945-1947): Democrat David Walsh and Republican Leverett Saltonstall
  • New Jersey (1923-1929): Republican Walter Edge and Democrat Edward Edwards
  • North Dakota (1945): Republican Wild Bill Langer and Democrat John Moses
  • Oklahoma (1979-1981): Republican Henry Bellmon and Democrat David Boren
  • South Carolina (1964-1965): Democrat Olin Johnston and Republican Strom Thurmond (after Thurmond switched parties)
  • South Carolina (1965-1966): Republican Strom Thurmond and Democrat Don Russell
  • South Dakota (1931-1936): Republican Peter Norbeck and Democrat William Bulow
  • Wyoming (1930-1933): Democrat John Kendrick and Republican Robert Carey
  • Wyoming (1953-1954): Democrat Lester Hunt and Republican Frank Barrett

It is unlikely the 118th Congress will see a third pairing of ex-governors represent their state in the nation’s upper legislative chamber.

To date, no ex-governors have filed to challenge Michael Bennet in Colorado, Marco Rubio in Florida, Mike Crapo in Idaho, John Thune in South Dakota, or Mike Lee in Utah.

There are no U.S. Senate elections on the ballot this cycle in Delaware, Maine, West Virginia, and Virginia.

Aside from Hassan, North Dakota’s John Hoeven is the only other ex-governor up for reelection to the Senate in 2022.

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4 Comments

  1. Flickertail-Pembina on March 17, 2021 at 12:39 pm

    “…South Dakota (Tim Rounds)…” He may have visited the US senate chamber, or the Capitol office of his elder brother, Marion Michael Rounds, but…

    The national Rs seem to believe there are quite a few “targets of opportunity”, for starters GA, AZ, NV, and NH. They also seem to regard AL and even MO as safe holds, despite the departures of their incumbents from them.



    • Dr. Eric Ostermeier on March 17, 2021 at 1:41 pm

      Alas, Tim – a former (state) legislator in his own right but always looking up at his big brother.

      I refrained from characterizing the open Ohio seat as a battleground, although a Tim Ryan candidacy could make it competitive.



  2. Guest on March 17, 2021 at 6:57 pm

    Apparently, Matthew M. Neely didn’t become Governor of West Virginia until 1941, so he wasn’t a former governor during his service with Henry Hatfield.



    • Dr. Eric Ostermeier on March 17, 2021 at 7:36 pm

      Good catch – thanks! Corrected above. Yes, Neely was one of those politicians who has the fairly rare US SEN – GOV – US SEN roads to elected office on his resume.