How Often Do Missouri US Reps Run for US Senate?
Vicky Hartzler is the first of possibly multiple Show-Me State U.S. House members to launch a bid for the upper chamber in 2022
Roy Blunt’s announcement three months ago that he would not seek a third term in the U.S. Senate has already resulted in several big names in Missouri politics lining up to vie for his open seat.
Among the handful of GOP candidates already in the race are former Governor Eric Greitens, current state Attorney General Eric Schmitt, and six-term Congresswoman Vicky Hartzler who launched her bid last week.
Hartzler is one of several members of Missouri’s Republican U.S. House delegation who are purported to be considering a run for Blunt’s seat including six-term Rep. Billy Long and five-term Reps. Jason Smith and Ann Wagner.
Blunt himself was a seven-term U.S. Representative when he won Kit Bond’s open U.S. Senate seat in 2010 – but is only the second sitting U.S. House member to do so from Missouri during the direct election era.
Prior to Blunt, only three-term Democrat Harry Hawes was promoted without interruption between the two chambers.
Hawes represented the 11th CD from 1921 until simultaneously winning special and general elections in 1926 to the state’s Class III seat by less than five points against appointed incumbent George Williams.
Three other former U.S. Representatives have won U.S. Senate seats in Missouri since 1914:
- 1928: Republican Roscoe Patterson (1921-1923; 7th CD) picked up an open seat for his party with a 4.0-point victory against St. Louis attorney Charles Hay
- 1950: Democrat Thomas Hennings (1935-1940; 11th CD) knocked Senator Forrest Donnell out of office by a 7.3-point margin
- 2002: Republican Jim Talent (1993-2001; 2nd CD) unseated Senator Jean Carnahan by 1.1 points
Against this backdrop of successful campaigns are three times as many bids that came up short.
Seven other sitting Missouri U.S. Representatives failed in their U.S. Senate bids during the direct election era:
- 1934: Democrat John Cochran (1926-1927, 1928-1947; 11th CD / At-large / 13th CD) placed second out of four primary candidates with 35.4 percent in a 6.0-point loss to Harry Truman
- 1934: Democrat Jacob Milligan (1920-1921, 1923-1935; 3rd CD / At-large) placed third in the same primary with 22.1 percent nearly 20 points behind Truman
- 1968: Republican Thomas Curtis (1951-1969; 12th CD / 2nd CD) came 2.1 points shy of winning an open seat against Lieutenant Governor Thomas Eagleton
- 1976: Democrat Jerry Litton (1973-1976; 6th CD) died in a plane crash as he was winning his party’s nod to take on state Attorney General John Danforth
- 1976: Democrat James Symington (1969-1977; 2nd CD) placed third in the 10-candidate Democratic primary with 25.2 percent – 20 points behind Litton
- 1994: Democrat Alan Wheat (1983-1995; 5th CD) narrowly won his party’s nomination only to be upended by 24 points in the general by former Governor John Ashcroft
- 2012: Republican Todd Akin (2001-2013; 2nd CD) won a competitive three-way primary but Senator Claire McCaskill handily won reelection by 15.7 points
An additional nine former U.S. Representatives ran for the U.S. Senate and lost over the last 110 years:
- 1910: Republican Nathan Frank (1889-1891; 9th CD) placed a distant second in the GOP primary with 24.4 percent – 36 points behind Lieutenant Governor John McKinley. [Note: Missouri began conducting the direct nomination of U.S. Senators in 1908 although the general election vote was still conducted by the state legislature until 1914].
- 1914: Republican Politte Elvins (1909-1911; 13th CD) lost his party’s primary by 27 points to former state GOP Party Chairman Thomas Akins
- 1916: Nathan Frank placed third with 19.0 percent in his second attempt at the GOP U.S. Senate nomination – former state GOP Party Chairman Walter Dickey received the nod
- 1928: Nathan Frank ran second out of six candidates with 28.0 percent – narrowly losing his party’s nomination in his third and final bid. Congressman and sitting U.S. District Attorney for the Western District of Missouri Roscoe Patterson eked out a 3.4-point victory.
- 1928: Republican William Atkeson (1921-1923; 6th CD) placed a distant fifth in the same primary with just 4.7 percent
- 1932: Republican Dewey Short (1929-1931; 14th CD) ran second out of six candidates with 21.0 percent – nearly 30 points behind former St. Louis Mayor Henry Kiel. [Short would soon rejoin the state’s U.S. House delegation for more than 20 years (1935-1957; 7th CD)].
- 1938: Republican Henry Caulfield (1907-1909; 11th CD) – also a former governor of Missouri – cruised to an easy nomination win with 86 percent, but fell more than 20 points short of unseating Senator Bennett Champ Clark
- 1946: Republican William Elmer (1943-1945; 8th CD) could only muster 13.3 percent and a third place primary finish more than 40 points behind Kansas City attorney James Kern
- 1974: Republican Thomas Curtis (1951-1969; 12th CD / 2nd CD) easily won his party’s U.S. Senate nomination for a second time but was no match for Senator Thomas Eagleton during this Watergate cycle – losing by more than 20 points
The 2022 GOP field still has to more than double to match the number of U.S. Senate hopefuls who ran in 2018 when a party-record 11 candidates graced the primary ballot in a contest easily won by Josh Hawley.
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One of the two who made a direct transition had also won & held a statewide office (Roy Dean Blunt; state state secretary from 1985 to 1993). As well, three of five members – incumbent or ex – who succeeded knocked off incumbent senators, including appointed Senator Jean Carnahan.
Of those whose bids failed, two stand out. Had Jerry Lon Litton not died, he would liked have defeated “Saint Jack” Danforth in 1976 and served until at least early 1995. And had Thomas Bradford Curtis defeated “Tom” Eagleton in 1968, there assuredly would not have occurred the running-mate fiasco of 1972. Of course, McGovern still likely would have lost, given the divisions within his party, and the timing of his acceptance speech (commenced about 2 am in Minneapolis !).
Of related interest: Senator Hennings died in September 1960, and Missouri held a special election to replace him that November. This didn’t leave time for primaries, so the nominees were chosen by the state committees of their respective parties. Both parties had congressmen seeking the Senate nomination.
Rep. Charles Brown (D-7th CD) was a candidate for the Democratic nomination. Despite an endorsement from Harry Truman, he lost, 30-14, to Lt. Gov. Edward V. Long on Sept. 21. (He went on to lose his House seat in November, so he had a tough year.)
On the GOP side, former Rep. Dewey Short was a candidate up until the committee meeting on Sept. 23, when he withdrew (he must have been short on votes) and endorsed Lon Hocker, who then received the nomination unopposed.
Had both won, the Senate race would have been a rematch of the 1956 Missouri 7 race in which Brown ousted Short.
See ” ‘Statehouse Machine’ Beat Me, Brown Says,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 9/23/1960, and “GOP Picks Hocker to Run for Senate; Dewey Short Pulls out of Race; St. Louisan Named Unanimously,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 9/24/1960.
Indeed, that is very relevant and interesting background regarding the nominations for the 1960 US Senate special election, Daniel – thank you for sharing all that info.