Georgia could see its first rematch among major party nominees in state history; gubernatorial candidates have come back to win their first election for the office in just seven out of 33 attempts

After months of speculation, former state Representative Stacey Abrams announced this week that she would indeed run once again for governor – following her high profile 1.4-point loss to Brian Kemp in 2018.

Governor Kemp is also running for another term, which sets up the prospects of a rematch between the candidates in the highly contentious 2018 contest in which Abrams refused to concede and accused Kemp – Georgia’s then Secretary of State – of implementing policies that depressed the official vote count among residents favorable to her campaign.

While Abrams is a virtual lock for the Democratic nomination, Kemp is already facing a challenge to his right from former Democratic turned pro-Trump Republican state Representative Vernon Jones. Former U.S. Senator David Perdue is also publicly weighing a primary challenge.

But if Kemp should prevail and win his party’s nomination, Georgia will see its first gubernatorial rematch among major party nominees for the first time since statehood.

It should be noted there have technically been a few general election rematches in Georgia history involving one minor party candidate:

  • 1936 and 1938: Democratic state Representative and House Speaker Eurith Rivers defeated Prohibitionist L.P. Glass – a reverend from Sylvania – by 99.3 and 92.4 points respectively
  • 1948 and 1950: Democrat Herman Talmadge’s nominal general election opponent was Atlanta Journal columnist Morgan Blake. Blake won 2.2 percent in his 1948 write-in campaign and 1.4 percent two years later
  • 2002 and 2006: The third-place finisher against Republican Sonny Perdue in both of these cycles was Libertarian nominee Garrett Hayes who claimed 2.3 percent and 3.8 percent respectively

Abrams joins a long line of Georgians who followed up a first failed attempt at becoming governor with another attempt.

Overall, failed gubernatorial candidates have suited up to run again 33 times – winning seven of them:

  • Former state Representative and House Speaker Charles Jenkins lost the 1853 general election as a Constitutional Unionist by 0.5 points to former U.S. Senator Herschel Johnson running under the States’ Rights banner. Twelve years later, Jenkins won the governorship unopposed as a Conservative Party candidate.
  • Future Democratic U.S. Senator John Gordon lost the 1868 contest by 4.5 points to Republican banker Rufus Bullock and nearly two decades later won the 1886 general election unopposed
  • Former Democratic state legislator L.G. Hardman lost his party’s primary for governor twice (in 1914 to Nat Harris and in 1916 to Hugh Dorsey) before winning the 1926 primary runoff against state highway department chief John Holder en route to an unopposed general election campaign
  • Former state Attorney General Clifford Walker lost the primary runoff to former U.S. Senator Thomas Hardwick in 1920 but defeated Hardwick in the 1922 primary and won the general election unopposed
  • The aforementioned Democratic state legislator Eurith Rivers placed second and third respectively in the 1926 and 1928 primaries before handily winning the 1936 primary against state Senate President Charles Redwine and then the general election by more than 99 points against Prohibitionist L.P. Glass
  • Democratic state Senator Jimmy Carter placed third in the 1966 primary eventually won by Lester Maddox but won a runoff in the 1970 primary against former Governor Carl Sanders and then the general election that November against Republican television journalist Hal Suit
  • Democratic state Senator Roy Barnes placed third in the 1990 primary won by Zell Miller but eight years later was elected by double-digits over Republican businessman Guy Millner

It should be noted that this report focuses on general election rematches only. For nearly a century, Georgia was effectively a one-party state and the Democratic primary served as the de facto general election within which intraparty rematches abound.

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  1. Flickertail-Pembina on December 5, 2021 at 10:55 am

    Trivia: Maddox, the winner in that 1966 intraparty contest against Carter and several others, ended up serving as lieutenant governor, concurrently with Carter as governor from 1971 to 1975 (per a state prohibition on consecutive gubernatorial terms at the time). [William Donald Schaefer made the jump from governor to comptroller of MD in 1994, again due to term limits like Maddox in 1970. In 2006, “Jim” Risch of ID went from governor to lieutenant governor, though he had been serving as an ascended governor after his predecessor resigned to take a federal cabinet position. And a number of term-limited governors have chosen to become “one of 100” – or even “435” – in Washington’s legislative bodies.]

    On relatively rare occasions, noteworthy things do occur on Saturdays, like the employment of a high-profile, politically-connected television journalist being terminated, or a SmartPolitics report being dropped online.

    • John Chessant on December 5, 2021 at 10:20 pm

      The most famous “demoted” governor is probably Jerry Brown, who was mayor and state attorney-general after his first two terms as governor. Douglas Wilder was another governor-turned-mayor, as were Theodore McKeldin, J. Bracken Lee, James Michael Curley, and Charles W. Bryan; Robert D. Ray too, albeit in an interim capacity. Eliot Spitzer nearly won an election for city comptroller five years after he resigned as governor. His fellow scandal-plagued NY governor (brother of the just-terminated high-profile television journalist) is supposedly being floated for state attorney-general mere months after his resignation. Pat Quinn nearly won an election for state attorney-general, while David Buckson and Joseph Burnquist were governors who successfully made that jump. Arnold Williams went from governor to secretary of state and James Hinkle went from governor to lands commissioner, whereas J. Milton Tawes was appointed to fill an unexpired term as treasurer. Former governors rarely run for state legislature nowadays, though this was less unheard of in the 19th century; even so, some recent examples are Julian Carroll and Nancy Hollister. Endicott Peabody was a former Massachusetts governor who lost bids for U.S. Senate and state house in New Hampshire (the state where it is mathematically easiest to win a state house seat). Speaking of moving states, former New Mexico governor David Cargo ran for treasurer of Oregon; he then moved back to New Mexico where he ran thrice for mayor of Albuquerque. Meanwhile, former Colorado governor Roy Romer was later appointed superintendent of Los Angeles public schools.

      Governors-turned-lieutenant governors can be grouped into three categories: lieutenant governors who briefly ascend to the governorship but immediately return to the role of lieutenant governor, like Risch, John S. McKiernan, and Paul Brigham; lieutenant governors who ascend to the governorship, were defeated for a full term, and were later elected lieutenant governor again, like “Little Jim” Folsom, George Nigh, John William Brown, and Dennis Murphree; and governors who did not previously serve as lieutenant governor, like Maddox. Nigh and Murphree each ascended to the governorship twice.

      As for governors who later chose to become “1 of 435”, this site did a report on them when Charlie Crist was running for the House in 2016. Two rather powerful governors who failed to make that list were Earl Long and Edwin Edwards, both from Louisiana. Long (who also ran for lieutenant governor twice following his initial term as governor, due to the one-term limit at the time) won the Democratic primary for the 8th district seat in 1960, which was tantamount to victory, but he died before the general election. Edwards (who was in prison from 2002 to 2011 and thus ineligible for any state-level office) placed first in the top-two primary for the 6th district seat in 2014, but he was defeated by Garret Graves in the December runoff by a large margin. Edwards’s fellow four-termer Bill Janklow was indeed elected to the House, but had to resign shortly thereafter in the wake of a vehicular manslaughter incident.

      Also, the noteworthy things that occurred this weekend now include the death of a former Senate majority leader, and nominee for president and vice-president.

  2. Daniel Fox on December 6, 2021 at 3:26 pm

    In Ohio, we had Harry L. Davis, who was mayor of Cleveland (1916-20), then governor (1921-23), then mayor again (1933-35).

    James Michael Curley of Boston and Theodore R. McKeldin of Baltimore (both mentioned above) also took the mayor-to-governor-to mayor route.

    J. Bracken Lee of Utah may be unique in this regard: he was mayor of one city (Price, Utah), then governor, then mayor of a different city (Salt Lake City).

    Gov. (1927-29) Fred Zimmerman of Wisconsin was elected secretary of state in 1938 and served until hi s death in

    • Daniel Fox on December 6, 2021 at 3:27 pm


    • John Chessant on December 8, 2021 at 5:12 pm

      Hopefully we got all the successful attempts, at least since 1900. Some unsuccessful attempts:

      *Harold Stassen (Minnesota, 1939-1943) was the losing nominee for mayor of Philadelphia in 1959
      *Johnston Murray (Oklahoma, 1951-1955) lost a primary for treasurer in 1962
      *Foster Furcolo (Massachusetts, 1957-1961) lost a primary for attorney-general in 1966
      *W. Haydon Burns (Florida, 1965-1967) lost a primary for mayor of Jacksonville in 1971; he would’ve been another one on the mayor-to-governor-to-mayor route
      *Warren E. Hearnes (Missouri, 1965-1973) was the losing nominee for auditor in 1978
      *Claude R. Kirk (Florida, 1967-1971) was the losing nominee for education commissioner in 1990
      *Mike Lowry (Washington, 1993-1997) was the losing nominee for lands commissioner in 2000
      *Ben Cayetano (Hawaii, 1994-2002) was the runner-up for mayor of Honolulu in 2012

      Leo Elthon and Dwight W. Burney are two more governors-turned-lieutenant governors of the first variety. Philip Hoff was state senator after his governorship. Alongside Romer, I should’ve mentioned former Hawaii governor Linda Lingle, who was appointed chief operating officer of Illinois. Another amusing one is Howard M. Gore, who was U.S. secretary of agriculture (1924-1925), then governor of West Virginia (1925-1929), then state agriculture commissioner (1931-1933).

      Somewhat similar to the mayor-to-governor-to-different-city’s-mayor contour is that of Harry P. Cain; he was mayor of Tacoma, Washington (1940-1946), then U.S. senator from Washington (1946-1953), then one of 9 county commissioners of Dade County, Florida (1972-1976).

      Alaska’s former lieutenant governor Byron Mallott was mayor of Yakutat (1965-1966), population about 200 at the time, and then, after several roles in the state government, was elected mayor of Juneau (1994-1995). John Jenkins was elected mayor of Maine’s twin cities Lewiston (1994-1998) and Auburn (2007-2009), while George Gascón has been elected district attorney of San Francisco (2011-2019) and Los Angeles (2020-present).

      There’s also Bill Hudnut, who after a term in the U.S. House was a four-term mayor of Indianapolis (1976-1992) and the GOP nominee for secretary of state of Indiana in 1990, and then became town boardmember and mayor of Chevy Chase, Maryland (2004-2006). Stephen Goldsmith succeeded him as mayor of Indianapolis (1992-2000), was the GOP nominee for governor in 1996, and was later appointed a deputy mayor of New York City (2010-2011).

      • Daniel Fox on December 8, 2021 at 8:02 pm

        impressive. I do have a few more:

        Martin Schreiber (D- WI) stepped up from Lt. Gov. in 1977 after Gov. Pat Lucey was appointed to an ambassadorship, serving 1977-79. In 1988 he ran for mayor of Milwaukee.

        Jack Walton (D-OK) was governor in 1923 and was removed by impeachment. After a couple of losing Senate races, he lost for Oklahoma City mayor in 1931. He then served a six-year elected term on the Oklahoma Corporation Commission, 1933-39, and ran unsuccessfully for the same office in 1944. Persistent guy.

        John Miles (D-NM), Governor 1939-43, was the unsuccessful Democratic nominee for mayor of Santa Fe in April 1944, then later that year was elected state land commissioner — defeating another ex-Governor, Richard Dillon (R, 1927-31), and serving 1945-49 . In 1948 he was elected to the U.S. House. Finally, in 1956 he lost a Democratic primary bid for another term as land commissioner.

        Other governors who ran for lower statewide offices:

        C.J. “Doc” Rogers (R-WY), acting governor 1953-55 (if that counts) was state treasurer 1959-62.

        Jonathan M. Davis (D-KS), governor 1923-25, was Democratic nominee for Lt. Gov., 1942, and also ran for state senator in 1932 (as an independent) and ’40 (lost the Dem primary).

        Frank Morrison (D-NE), governor 1961-67, lost for A.G. in the 1974 Dem primary.

        Herbert B. Maw (D-UT), governor 1941-49, was an unsuccessful candidate for A.G. in the state Dem convention of 1960.

        Harold J. Arthur (R-VT), an “ascended” governor who served 1950-51, ran for his old job of lt. gov. in the 1954 GOP primary.

        Paul B. Johnson Jr. (D-MS), governor 1964-68, ran for lt. gov. in the 1967 Dem. primary. (Maybe that’s where Lester Maddox got the idea?)

        C. Elmer Anderson (R-MN), governor 1951-55, was GOP nominee for secretary of state (1956) and for public service commissioner (1970).

        Walter W. Johnson (D-CO), “ascended” governor (1950-51), was the Democratic nominee for lt. gov. in 1950.

  3. Daniel Fox on December 8, 2021 at 8:28 pm

    There are also governors who ran for seats in state legislatures. Some are mentioned above. Here are some more.

    Starting with Ohio, just because it’s my home state: John W. Brown (R), “ascended” governor in 1957, was a state rep. (1959-61) and state sen. (1961-63) before mounting his comeback as LG.

    Idaho had Arnold Williams (D), “ascended” governor 1945-47, who ran for the state senate in 1952, and Clarence Bottolfsen (R), governor 1939-41 and 1943-45, who was a state senator (1959-63).

    Mississippi had Hugh White, governor (1936-40) and state rep. (1944-48), and James P. Coleman, governor (1956-60) and state rep. (1960-64).

    Lawrence Wetherby (D-KY), governor (1950-55), was a state senator (1966-70), and (I think) was president pro tem in his second session.

    Keith Miller (R-AK), “ascended” governor (1969-70), was a state senator (1973-75).

    Samuel V. Stewart (D-MT), governor (1913-21), was a state rep. (1931-33).

    John H. Hall (R-OR) became governor in 1947 when a plane crash killed the governor, secretary of state, and state senate president. After serving 1947-49, he ran for state senator in 1950 but lost the primary.

    Finally, Guy Hunt (R-AL), governor 1987-93, lost a race for state senator in 2002.

  4. Daniel Fox on December 8, 2021 at 8:34 pm

    Oh, I almost forgot: Albert D. Rossellini (D-WA), governor 1957-65, ran unsuccessfully for King County (Seattle) Executive in 1969, when the position was first created. Not exactly a mayoral candidacy, but close enough for government work.

    • Daniel Fox on December 8, 2021 at 8:41 pm

      Also, Leslie Miller (D-WY),, governor 1933-39, served as state senator 1945-49.

      Henry S. Johnston (D-OK), governor 1927-29, was state senator 1933-37.

  5. Flickertail-Pembina on December 24, 2021 at 7:09 pm

    “Jerry” Brown in fact sought a “demotion” before his Second Act (1999 ~ 2019) – twice, in 1982 and 1992, the latter as former governor, before switching from US Senate to POTUS contest. As well, “Gray” Davis made the downward (?) move from controller to lieutenant governor (which pays less and has less institutional powers) in 1994 – marking perhaps the first occasion in state political history that an elected officer even attempted a move to another, non-governor state constitutional post.

    Perhaps the most noteworthy such move is one that did not actually occur. In 1980 Gerald Rudoloh Ford was seriously considered for vice president (by then a Californian like onetime rival Reagan, though he would have been ready to become a legal resident of Colorado, per the Twelfth Amendment) – after already having served as president, albeit an unelected one. Alas, nothing came of it, chiefly because he essentially wished to be the JUNIOR PRESIDENT, i.e. with specific powers & duties. He passed away on the 26th of 12 of 2006; RIP.

    Happy HOLIDAYS to devout and casual readers alike.

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