Nation’s Largest U.S. House Special Election Drought to End in Minnesota
Minnesota has held 176 elections for the nation’s lower legislative chamber since its last special – most in the nation
The passing of Republican Jim Hagedorn in Minnesota’s 1st Congressional District last Thursday will leave the seat vacant until a special election is held on August 9th as announced by Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon.
This is just the fourth time the death of a Minnesota U.S. Representative has triggered a special election since statehood, joining Democrat Carl Van Dyke in May 1919, Farmer-Laborite Ole Kvale in September 1929, and Republican August Andresen in January 1958.
The most recent Minnesota U.S. House special election was held after the resignation of DFLer Bob Bergland on January 22, 1977 to become U.S. Secretary of Agriculture under President Jimmy Carter.
A special primary was held just 17 days later on February 8th and the special election on February 22nd.
The northwestern 7th CD seat was vacant for just 31 days and was filled by former Republican state Representative Arlan Stangeland who won the four-candidate field by 20.9 points over former Bergland aide Mike Sullivan.
Since then, Minnesota has hosted 176 U.S. House elections without a special – more than any other state.
Iowa is next with 173 followed by Tennessee (144), Colorado (124), Idaho (122), and Nebraska (110).
The vacancy in Hagedorn’s seat will last 173 days, and will be by far the longest vacancy in Minnesota history – surpassing the previous 42-day record that followed the aforementioned death of Van Dyke in the St. Paul-based 4th CD on May 20, 1919.
No party primaries were held for the subsequent July 1st special in which independent Oscar Keller defeated Republican attorney Carl Cummins by 12 points with Democratic (Richard O’Brien) and Socialist (C.R. Carlgren) nominees rounding out the field.
The deaths of Kvale in 1929 and Andresen in 1958 resulted in 35-day vacancies.
To fill the Kvale seat, a Republican primary election was scheduled for October 9, 1929 between Morris Tribune editor J.C. Morrison, J.M. Haughland of Montevideo, and Lawrence Carlson of Renville. But Haughland and Carlson withdrew from the race as did Democratic nominee C.B. Johnson of Willmar.
Democrats endorsed Farmer-Labor nominee Paul Kvale, son and private secretary to the deceased congressman, who defeated Morrison in a landslide by 46.3 points.
In the 1958 special, state Senator Al Quie easily won a seven-candidate GOP primary and then defeated 29 year-old attorney Eugene Foley from Wabasha by 0.7 points.
The August 2022 election to fill Hagedorn’s seat will be the sixth special election in Minnesota history – one other special was conducted but did not result in a vacancy.
Six-term Republican Walter Newton of the Minneapolis-based 5th CD was appointed secretary to President Herbert Hoover effective June 30, 1929.
The exit date was announced with enough notice for the Republican Party to hold a primary (on June 10th), with the special held on June 17th.
Three-term sitting GOP Lieutenant Governor William Nolan was elected by 6.8 points over future Democratic congressman Einar Hoidale with a plurality 46.6 percent. [Former Republican U.S. Representative (and future Farmer-Labor U.S. Representative and U.S. Senator) Ernest Lundeen placed a distant third.]
Idaho is the only state never to hold a special election to the U.S. House after statehood.
Delaware (1900), New Hampshire (1932), Maine (1951), Nebraska (1951), Iowa (1959), North Dakota (1963), Rhode Island (1967), Vermont (1972), and Alaska (1973) are the remaining states who have seen more time pass than Minnesota since holding their last special election – although with much smaller congressional delegations and thus a smaller raw number of elections.
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A few vacancies in 2017 ended long special election droughts too.
In Kansas, Mike Pompeo (4th CD) resigned on January 23 to become CIA director and was replaced by Ron Estes on April 11. This was the first special election in Kansas since 1950, when Herbert Alton Meyer (3rd CD) died on October 2 and Myron V. George won elections on November 7 to complete the term and serve the next term. [In 1996, Sam Brownback (2nd CD) was not a candidate for reelection; instead he won the November special election for Bob Dole’s U.S. Senate seat. Kansas state law allows the governor to swear in a member-elect early if the vacancy occurs after the general election. As such, Brownback resigned to assume the Senate seat and his successor Jim Ryun took office on November 27 despite there not being a special election for the seat. More recently, Oklahoma used a similar provision to swear in Kevin Hern (1st CD) on November 13, 2018, without voters having to vote on a separate item on the general election ballot.]
In Montana, Ryan Zinke (at-large CD) resigned on March 1 to become interior secretary and was replaced by Greg Gianforte on May 25. This was the first special election in Montana since 1969, when James F. Battin (2nd CD) resigned on February 27 to become a federal judge and was replaced by John Melcher on June 24.
In Utah, Jason Chaffetz (3rd CD) resigned on June 30 and was replaced by John Curtis on November 7. This was the first special election in Utah since 1930, when Elmer Leatherwood (2nd CD) died on December 24, 1929 and Frederick Loofbourow won elections on November 4, 1930 to complete the term and serve the next term. In fact, Chaffetz is thus far the only representative from Utah to resign.
Going back a few years, Nevada had its first special election since statehood in 2011, when Dean Heller (2nd CD) resigned to become a U.S. senator and was replaced by Mark Amodei [though this was not the first vacancy, as short vacancies were left by James G. Scrugham in 1942 and Jim Gibbons in 2006, who resigned to become U.S. senator and governor, respectively].
Until the 2004 special to replace Bill Janklow (at-large CD), South Dakota had not seen a special election since William H. Parker died and was replaced by Eben Martin in 1908, nearly a century prior.
And Colorado, despite having more districts than any other aforementioned state, has had just one special election since 1945: former astronaut Jack Swigert elected in the 6th CD in 1982 but died before taking office, and Daniel Schaefer won the resulting special election in 1983.
Had it not been for its two “accidental” House members of the 2010s (David Curson (11th CD, 2012-2013) and Brenda Jones (13th CD, 2018-2019)), Michigan would lead the list of largest special election droughts. Since the 1993 special in the 3rd CD, the state has held 4*16 + 5*15 + 5*14 = 209 regular elections plus those two special elections.
Likewise, since the 1977 special in the 7th CD, Washington has held 2*7 + 5*8 + 10*9 + 5*10 = 194 regular elections, plus one special election in November 2012 caused by Jay Inslee’s resignation to focus on his successful campaign for governor that year.
Rep Bruce Vento died Oct 2000 while in office no special election was held as his term was ending in Jan 2001 and he was not a candidate in the Nov 2000 election