No sitting or former Nevada U.S. Senator has ever appeared on a gubernatorial primary or general election ballot

While Democrats have won nine of the last 10 statewide elections in Nevada following the 2014 cycle, it appears the GOP is not shying away from the opportunity to unseat first term Democratic Governor Steve Sisolak next year.

Five Republican candidates are already in the race including two-term Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo and two-term North Las Vegas Mayor John Lee, with reports coming out last week that former U.S. Senator Dean Heller is readying a bid as well. [U.S. Representative Mark Amodei and former state Attorney General and 2018 nominee Adam Laxalt have also not ruled out running for the office].

A Heller campaign would be particularly noteworthy as he would be taking an uncharted path to the governorship in the Silver State.

Smart Politics reviewed the state’s elections for governor dating back to statehood and found that no sitting or ex-U.S. Senator has ever appeared on Nevada’s 40 general or 56 major party primary gubernatorial ballots.

From 1864 through the 2018 cycle, Nevada voters have been given the opportunity to elect 217 different Nevadans for governor as a Democrat, Republican, independent, or a third party nominee.

None of the 26 men and women to serve in the U.S. Senate from Nevada launched such gubernatorial campaigns during or following their tenure in the nation’s upper legislative chamber.

The reverse pathway, however, has occurred a handful of times with four ex- or sitting governors from Nevada winning election to the U.S. Senate:

  • Republican Tasker Oddie (1911-1915): Elected in 1920 and 1926
  • Democrat James Scrugham (1923-1927): Elected in 1942’s special
  • Republican Paul Laxalt (1967-1971): Elected in 1974 and 1980
  • Democrat Richard Bryan (1983-1989): Elected in 1988 and 1994

Democrat Governor Edward Carville (1939-1945) also famously resigned to ‘appoint himself’ to the U.S. Senate in July 1945 following the death of Senator Scrugham.

[One additional failed gubernatorial candidate, William Massey, was subsequently appointed to the U.S. Senate. Massey lost to Tasker Oddie in the 1910 GOP gubernatorial primary by 2.6 points, and two years later Governor Oddie appointed Massey to fill the vacancy caused by the death of Senator George Nixon].

It should be noted that five of the 20 former Nevada U.S. Senators who served during the gubernatorial primary era (1910-) died in office and thus could never have run for governor as an ex-Senator (Republican George Nixon in 1912, Democrat Francis Newlands in 1917, Democrat Key Pittman in 1940, Democrat James Scrugham in 1945, and Democrat Pat McCarran in 1954).

While a Heller candidacy probably won’t clear the GOP field, Republicans will still be shy of the party record eight candidates who vied for the gubernatorial nomination last cycle in 2018 – equaling the number who ran in 1990.

The 14 Democratic and Republican candidates on the primary ballot in 2018 also tied the state’s previous high water mark set in 1990. Thirteen candidates ran in 1998 and 2014.

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10 Comments

  1. Flickertail Pembina on June 28, 2021 at 1:50 am

    US Senate to governor (partial list):

    Joseph Moore Dixon – R; MT; legislative vote/pre-17th Amendment; 1920
    Arthur Harry Moore – D; NJ; 1934 (SEN); 1937
    Edwin Carl Johnson – D; CO; 1936, 1942, 1948 (SEN); 1954
    Monrad Charles Wallgren – R; WA; 1940 (SEN); 1944
    Henry Louis Bellman – R; OK; 1968, 1974 (SEN); 1986
    Mark Brandt Dayton – DFL; MN; 2000; 2010, 2014
    …..

    Though not quite rare, those who have gone from the chamber to the chief executive post is dwarfed in number by those have gone in the reverse direction. For starters, it is by definition more difficult for incumbent senators to stand for the governorship than the other pathway. The more intriguing thing is that relatively few former senators have even attempted the jump, and fewer still have succeeded (shorter term of service, narrower policy scope, institutionally weak post).

    As for Heller, it is nearly certain that he will not succeed in “clearing the field” since he never was a dominant figure in the state or even within his party. Indeed, one of the first stands he may be compelled to take is whether he sides with the “objecters” (ex-AG Adam Laxalt?) or “rejectors” (Mark Eugene Amodei and less than 40% of his fellow colleagues) with regard to the widely accepted result of the 2020 presidential election.

    Former Governor James Arthur “Jim” Gibbons also has not ruled out a bid. Per lifetime term limits, he will be eligible for but one more term should he succeed in his return bid.



    • Dr. Eric Ostermeier on June 28, 2021 at 9:03 am

      Indeed, GOV to US SEN is the more common pathway. In Minnesota, only a few other ex- or sitting US Senators attempted what Dayton accomplished in 2010: Magnus Johnson in 1926 (lost general) & 1936 (lost Farmer-Labor primary) and Elmer Benson in 1936 (won the F-L primary & general election).



      • Daniel Fox on June 28, 2021 at 8:06 pm

        Strange as it may seem, though, there are reasons to prefer a governorship to a Senate seat. For one thing, a U.S. Senator is one of two in his state and one of a hundred in Washington. In the statehouse, the Gov is undeniably the top dog. Then, too, while Senator is undeniably a cushy job, it doesn’t come with a car, a driver-bodyguard, or a mansion, as a governorship often does. And then some people just prefer their home state to D.C. as a place to live.

        While it’s still true that more governors run for the Senate than vice versa, it does seem that the number of governors and ex-governors who run for the Senate has been at historic lows over the past 20 years.



    • John Chessant on June 29, 2021 at 10:48 pm

      In recent years (continuing the partial list):

      *Lowell Weicker: U.S. senator (1971-1989), governor of Connecticut (1991-1995)
      *Lawton Chiles: U.S. senator (1971-1989), governor of Florida (1991-1998)
      *Pete Wilson: U.S. senator (1983-1991), governor of California (1991-1999)
      *Dirk Kempthorne: U.S. senator (1993-1999), governor of Idaho (1999-2006)
      *Frank Murkowski: U.S. senator (1981-2002), governor of Alaska (2002-2006)
      *Jon Corzine: U.S. senator (2001-2006), governor of New Jersey (2006-2010)
      *Lincoln Chafee: U.S. senator (1999-2007), governor of Rhode Island (2011-2015)
      *Sam Brownback: U.S. senator (1996-2011), governor of Kansas (2011-2018)
      *Mark Dayton: U.S. senator (2001-2007), governor of Minnesota (2011-2019)
      *Mike DeWine: U.S. senator (1995-2007), governor of Ohio (2019-present)

      Other examples that come to mind:

      *Matthew M. Neely: U.S. senator (1923-1929, 1931-1941, 1949-1958), governor of West Virginia (1941-1945)
      *James F. Byrnes: U.S. senator (1931-1941), governor of South Carolina (1951-1955)
      *Happy Chandler: U.S. senator (1939-1945), governor of Kentucky (1935-1939, 1955-1959)
      *Ernest McFarland: U.S. senator (1941-1953), Senate majority leader (1951-1953), governor of Arizona (1955-1959)
      *Price Daniel: U.S. senator (1953-1957), governor of Texas (1957-1963)

      Losing candidates for governor:

      *Rush D. Holt: U.S. senator (1935-1941), nominee for governor of West Virginia (1952)
      *Hugh B. Mitchell: U.S. senator (1945-1946), nominee for governor of Washington (1952)
      *Irving Ives: U.S. senator (1947-1959), nominee for governor of New York (1954)
      *Richard Nixon: U.S. senator (1950-1953), nominee for governor of California (1962)
      *Adlai Stevenson III: U.S. senator (1970-1981), nominee for governor of Illinois (1982, 1986)
      *Gordon Humphrey: U.S. senator (1979-1990), nominee for governor of New Hampshire (2000)
      *David Vitter: U.S. senator (2005-2017), nominee for governor of Louisiana (2015)
      *Mark Begich: U.S. senator (2009-2015), nominee for governor of Alaska (2018)



      • Flickertail-Pembina on June 30, 2021 at 2:29 am

        Would-be senators-turned-governors:

        “Adlai the III”: nominee for governor of Illinois in 1986 – of two parties, the Democratic Party and the Solidarity Party (he arguably missed his best chance in 1982).
        W F “Bill” Knowland: nominee for governor of California in 1958 (allegedly as stepping stone to the presidency, though he already had been majority floor leader of the R Caucus); he sought to trade offices with his intraparty rival, Governor G S “Goodie” Knight, in what became known as the “Big Switch”. Knowland lost to Attorney General “Pat” Brown, rather unsurprising given the strong D wave that year – and the higher success rate of attorneys general becoming governors.



  2. Daniel Fox on June 30, 2021 at 9:22 pm

    Oh, well, as long as we’re doing this. . . let’s do it.

    Sitting senators elected governor:
    Walter Edge (R-NJ), Gov. 1917-19; Sen. 1919-29; Gov. 1944-47.
    Thomas Hardwick (D-GA) Sen. 1914-19; Gov. 1921-23.

    Ex-Senator elected governor:
    Ernest Gibson (R-VT), Sen. (appointed) 1940-41; Gov., 1947-50.

    Sitting U.S. Senators defeated for governor:
    Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX), Sen. 1992-2013; lost GOP primary for Gov., 2010
    William E. Jenner (R-IN), Sen. 1947-59; defeated for nomination for Gov. at the state GOP convention, 1948.
    Sam Jackson (D-IN), Sen. Jan.-Nov., 1944 (appointed); Dem. nominee for Gov., 1944.
    James J. Davis (R-PA), Sen. 1930-45; lost GOP primary for Gov., 1942. (He was also Secretary of Labor under Harding, Coolidge and Hoover.)
    Clyde Reed (R-KS), Gov., 1929-31; Sen. 1939-49; lost GOP primary for Gov., 1942.
    Phillips L. Goldsborough (R-MD), Gov. 1912-16; Sen. 1929-35; lost GOP primary for Gov., 1934.

    Ex- Senators defeated for governor:
    Paul Trible (R-VA), Sen. 1983-89; lost GOP primary for Gov., 1989.
    J. Glenn Beall (R-MD), Sen. 1971-77; GOP nominee for Gov., 1978.
    Ross Bass (D-TN), Sen. 1964-67; lost Dem.primary for Gov., 1974.
    Fred Seaton (R-NE), Sen. 1951-52 (appointed); GOP nominee for Gov., 1962.
    Chapman Revercomb (R-WV), Sen. 1943-49; lost GOP primary for Gov., 1960.
    W. Lee “Pappy” O’Daniel (D-TX), Gov. 1939-41; Sen. 1941-49; lost Dem. primaries for Gov., 1956, 1958.
    Charles Gossett (D-ID), Gov., 1945; Sen. 1945-46 (self-appointed); lost Dem. primary for Gov., 1954.
    Lynn Frazier (R-ND), Gov. 1917-21; Sen. 1923-41; lost GOP primary for Gov., 1946.
    C.C. Dill (D-WA), Sen. 1923-35; Dem. nominee for Gov., 1940.
    Cole Blease (D-SC), Gov. 1911-15; Sen. 1925-31; lost Dem. primaries for Gov., 1934, 1938.
    William B. Pine (R-OK), Sen. 1925-31; GOP nominee for Gov., 1934.
    David Baird, Jr. (R-NJ), Sen. 1929-30 (appointed); GOP nominee for Gov., 1931. (Incidentally, Baird was appointed to the Senate to replace Walter Edge, and was succeeded in the Senate by A. Harry Moore.)
    Earle Mayfield (D-TX), Sen. 1923-29; lost Dem. primary for Gov., 1930.
    John C.W. Beckham (D-KY), Gov. 1900-07; Sen. 1915-21; lost Dem. primary for Gov., 1927.

    Rush D. Holt was correctly mentioned above as losing for WV governor in 1952, but he was already on the list for running in, and losing, the Democratic primary in 1944. And Happy Chandler ran in the 1963 and 1967 Democratic primaries, and (if you can stand it) as an independent in 1971.

    Sorry, that’s all I got.



  3. Daniel Fox on June 30, 2021 at 9:30 pm

    Returning to Nevada for a moment — They did have a former U.S. Senator who ran for lieutenant governor: Berkeley Bunker in 1962.



    • John Chessant on July 1, 2021 at 11:54 pm

      Bunker, along with Neely, Mitchell, and Johnson (mentioned above), were also elected to the U.S. House as ex-senators. Others who were ‘demoted’ (unlike the senator-to-governor path, unambiguously so) in this way include:

      *James Wolcott Wadsworth, Jr. (R-NY): sen. 1915-1927, rep. 1933-1951
      *John M. Robsion (R-KY): sen. Jan.-Nov. 1930, rep. 1919-1930, 1935-1948
      *Cameron A. Morrison (D-NC): sen. 1930-1932, rep. 1943-1945
      *Claude Pepper (D-FL): sen. 1936-1951, rep. 1963-1989
      *Garrett Withers (D-KY): sen. 1949-1950, rep. 1952-1953
      *Alton Lennon (D-NC): sen. 1953-1954, rep. 1957-1973

      Losing candidates:

      *Dill (mentioned above): sen. 1923-1935, nominee for the 5th district seat in 1942, losing to Walt Horan
      *Holt (mentioned above): sen. 1935-1941, switched to the GOP in 1949 and became its nominee for the 3rd district seat in 1950, losing to Rep. Cleveland Bailey
      *Bass (mentioned above): sen. 1964-1967, nominee for the 6th district seat in 1976, losing to Rep. Robin Beard
      *Edward J. Gurney (R-FL): sen. 1969-1974, nominee for the 9th district seat in 1978, losing to (current NASA administrator) Bill Nelson
      *Larry Pressler (R-SD): sen. 1979-1997, candidate for the at-large seat in 2002, losing the primary to Bill Janklow
      *Rod Grams (R-MN): sen. 1995-2001, nominee for the 8th district seat in 2006, losing to Rep. Jim Oberstar

      Might as well also add a few more to the fantastic list above (senators defeated for governor):

      *James M. Mead (D-NY): sen. 1938-1947, nominee for governor in 1946, losing to Gov. Thomas E. Dewey
      *Hazel Abel (R-NE): sen. Nov.-Dec. 1954, candidate for governor in 1960, losing the primary to John R. Cooper



  4. Dr. Eric Ostermeier on July 1, 2021 at 6:40 pm

    And then we have the rare US SEN – GOV – US SEN list. Just over a dozen have achieved this feat in US history.

    Those doing so in or overlapping into the 20th Century: Kentucky Democrat James McCreary, New Jersey Republican Walter Edge, New Jersey Democrat Arthur Moore, Colorado Democrat Edwin Johnson, Kentucky Democrat Happy Chandler, and Oklahoma Republican Henry Bellmon.



  5. Daniel Fox on July 2, 2021 at 10:02 pm

    Oh, you’re good.

    Here are a few more ex-senators who ran for the House:

    Magnus Johnson (Farmer-Labor-MN), Sen. 1923-25; Congressman at large, 1933-35; defeated by Harold Knutson for the 6th District seat, 1934.
    George Malone (R-NV), Sen. 1947-59, GOP nominee for Nevada’s at-large seat (lost to Walter Baring).
    “Cotton Tom” Heflin (D-AL), Sen. 1921-31; candidate in 5th District Dem primary, 1934 and ’38 (lost both times to Joe Starnes).
    John Harreld (R-OK), 1921-27; GOP nominee for Oklahoma’s at-large seat, 1940 (lost to Will Rogers) (no, the other one) (no, the ,other other one).