More than 70 years have passed since the last time a sitting or former Democratic U.S. Representative won a U.S. Senate seat in the Sooner State

Due to the resignation of Jim Inhofe, Oklahoma will host two U.S. Senate elections in the same cycle this autumn for the second time in eight years.

Republicans, who have won each of the last 12 elections in the deep red state, are expected to handily win each of them.

However, those expectations did not dissuade former Democratic U.S. Representative Kendra Horn (2019-2021, 5th CD) from filing to run in the special election to succeed Senator Inhofe.

Horn, the only Democrat to notch a victory across the 32 elections for federal office held in the state since Dan Boren’s 2nd Congressional District win in 2010, adds her name to a long list of ex- and sitting Oklahoma U.S. Representatives to make a run at a U.S. Senate seat.

In fact, each of the last three Oklahomans to win U.S. Senate seats (each Republicans) came from the lower legislative chamber.

  • Inhofe (1987-1994, 1st CD) was in his fourth term when he won a 1994 special after the resignation of Democrat David Boren.
  • Tom Coburn (1995-2001, 2nd CD) was a former three-term U.S. Representative who was out of office nearly four years when he won an open seat race in 2004.
  • James Lankford (2011-2015, 5th CD) served two terms when he won Coburn’s open seat in 2014.

Three other Republican U.S. Representatives have made U.S. Senate bids:

  • 1920: Freshman John Harreld (1919-1921, 5th CD) was elected to the chamber
  • 1932: Former one-term Representative Ulysses Stone (1929-1931, 5th CD) placed third in the GOP primary behind attorney and oilman Wirt Franklin
  • 1948: Four-term congressman Ross Rizley was nominated but lost the general election by 24.9 points to former Governor Robert Kerr

On the Democratic side, it has been more than 70 years since the last time a sitting or former Democratic U.S. Representative won a U.S. Senate seat.

In 1950, six-term congressman Mike Monroney (1939-1951, 5th CD) ousted four-term Democratic Senator Elmer Thomas in a run-off from a seven-candidate primary field en route to his first of three terms in the chamber.

During the subsequent decades, there have been seven more bids by Democratic U.S. Representatives – all failed:

  • 1972: Ten-term congressman Ed Edmondson (1953-1973, 2nd CD) won the Democratic nomination but fell 3.9 points shy of defeating former Governor Dewey Bartlett in an open seat race
  • 1974: Edmondson won his party’s nomination again (beating former Attorney General and Corporation Commissioner Charles Nesbitt in the primary runoff), but, despite anti-GOP Watergate winds, could not unseat Senator Henry Bellmon in the general – losing by 0.5 points
  • 1974: In that same cycle, former eight-term Representative Wilburn Cartwright (1927-1943, 3rd CD) placed a distant third in the Democratic primary with 5.9 percent at the age of 82
  • 1978: Edmondson made his third and final U.S. Senate bid, but lost a primary run-off to Governor David Boren
  • 1986: Seven-term congressman James Jones (1973-1987, 1st CD) lost the general election to Senator Don Nickles by 10.4 points
  • 1994 (special): Seven-term Representative Dave McCurdy (1981-1995, 4th CD) lost to fellow delegation member Jim Inhofe
  • 2004: Two-term Democrat Brad Carson (2001-2005, 2nd CD) lost an open seat race to former GOP U.S. Representative Tom Coburn by 11.5 points

From the first primary for the office in 1912 through 1948, a total of 12 U.S. Senate candidacies were made by ex- or sitting Democratic U.S. Representatives:

Two resulted in victory:

  • 1926: Two-term Democrat Elmer Thomas (1923-1927, 6th CD)
  • 1936: Freshman Josh Lee (1935-1937, 5th CD)

One was nominated but lost the general election:

  • 1920: Seven-term Representative Scott Ferris (1907-1913, 5th CD; 1913-1921, 6th CD) – losing to the aforementioned freshman John Harreld

Nine lost the Democratic primary:

  • 1924: Two-term congressman Everette Howard (1919-1921, 1923-1925, 1st CD) placed second
  • 1936: Governor and former one-term Representative Ernest Marland (1933-1935, 8th CD) lost the primary runoff
  • 1938: Freshman Gomer Smith (1937-1939, 5th CD) placed second
  • 1938: Governor Marland lost his second bid for the Democratic nomination, finishing in third place
  • 1942: Former two-term Representative and ex-Governor Alfalfa Bill Murray (1913-1915, at-large; 1915-1917, 4th CD) placed third. [Note: Murray also tried to run as an independent in the 1938 U.S. Senate election but the state Supreme Court ruled he missed the filing deadline].
  • 1944: Seven-term congressman Wesley Disney (1931-1945, 1st CD) placed second
  • 1948: In his second bid, Gomer Smith lost the primary run-off to former Governor Robert Kerr
  • 1948: Freshman Glen Johnson (1947-1949, 4th CD) placed fifth
  • 1948: Former congressman Wilburn Cartwright (1927-1943, 3rd CD) finished in sixth and would wait 26 years before his next U.S. Senate run

Brad Carson’s 11.5-point loss to Tom Coburn in 2004 is the closest Democrats have come during the party’s current 12-seat losing streak – with an average deficit of 27.8 points.

A loss by Horn by fewer than 15 points in November would probably rate as a strong showing in a midterm cycle that looks particularly bleak for the party controlling the White House and congress.

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  1. John Chessant on April 7, 2022 at 11:44 pm

    There are a few states currently in an even longer streak without electing a Democratic U.S. representative to the Senate.

    *Missouri, 1950: Thomas Hennings (former U.S. rep. 1935-1940). The subsequent elected Democratic U.S. senators are Stuart Symington, Edward Long, Thomas Eagleton, and Claire McCaskill; each had no service in the House.
    *Virginia, 1946: A. Willis Robertson (U.S. rep. 1933-1946) [also father of Pat Robertson]. The subsequent Democrats are Harry Byrd Jr., William Spong, Chuck Robb, Jim Webb, Mark Warner, and Tim Kaine.
    *Pennsylvania, 1944: Francis Myers (U.S. rep. 1939-1945). The subsequent Democrats are Joseph Clark, Harris Wofford, and Bob Casey Jr.
    *Mississippi, 1941: Wall Doxey (U.S. rep. 1929-1941). The subsequent Democrats are James Eastland and John Stennis.
    *Utah, 1940: Abe Murdock (U.S. rep. 1933-1941). The only subsequent Democrat is Frank Moss.
    *Idaho, 1938: D. Worth Clark (U.S. rep. 1935-1939). The subsequent Democrats are Glen Taylor, Bert Miller, and Frank Church.
    *Nebraska, 1934: Edward Burke (U.S. rep. 1933-1935). The subsequent Democrats are Edward Zorinsky, James Exon, Bob Kerrey, and Ben Nelson.
    *South Carolina, 1930: James F. Byrnes (former U.S. rep. 1911-1925). The subsequent Democrats are Burnet R. Maybank, Olin D. Johnston, Strom Thurmond, and Fritz Hollings.

    No Democratic U.S. representative has ever won a Senate election in Alaska, Kansas, New Hampshire [in the direct election era], and Wyoming.

    On the GOP side, we have:

    *California, 1950: Richard Nixon (U.S. rep. 1947-1950). The subsequent Republicans are Thomas Kuchel, George Murphy, S. I. Hayakawa, and Pete Wilson.
    *Massachusetts, 1924: Frederick H. Gillett (U.S. rep. 1893-1925, speaker 1919-1925). The subsequent Republicans are Henry Cabot Lodge Jr., Leverett Saltonstall, Edward Brooke, and Scott Brown.
    *Washington, 1914 and 1916: Wesley L. Jones (U.S. rep. 1899-1909, U.S. sen. 1909-1932) and Miles Poindexter (U.S. rep. 1909-1911, U.S. sen. 1911-1923) each ran in the first popular election for their seat and were each elected to a second term. The subsequent Republicans are Harry P. Cain, Slade Gorton, and Daniel J. Evans.

    No Republican U.S. representative has ever won a Senate election In Alaska, Hawaii, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Utah [the latter three in the direct election era].

    • Dr. Eric Ostermeier on April 8, 2022 at 6:49 am

      Wow – that is an incredible trove of election data, John!

  2. John Chessant on April 8, 2022 at 12:08 am

    A few other notes:

    Nebraska, already in the list above on the Democratic side, nearly ties Oklahoma’s record on the GOP side too: In 1954, Nebraska elected two U.S. reps simultaneously to the Senate: Roman Hruska (U.S. rep. 1953-1954) and Carl Curtis (U.S. rep. 1939-1954). [This concluded a chaotic period in which Nebraska had a total of nine U.S. senators in four years]. The subsequent Republicans are Chuck Hagel, Mike Johanns, Deb Fischer, and Ben Sasse.

    Minnesota surprisingly nearly ties Oklahoma’s record too; Eugene McCarthy (U.S. rep. 1949-1959) was the last Democratic U.S. rep elected to the Senate, in 1958. This is despite the fact that most of the subsequent Democrats are household names nationally: Walter Mondale, Hubert Humphrey, Paul Wellstone, Mark Dayton, Amy Klobuchar, Al Franken, and Tina Smith. The other states that have such streaks going back to the 1950s are Kentucky (Alben Barkley, 1954), North Carolina (Sam Ervin, 1954), and West Virginia (Jennings Randolph and Robert Byrd, 1958) on the Democratic side; and New Jersey (Clifford Case, 1954) and New York (Kenneth Keating, 1958) on the Republican side.

    Of all the streaks mentioned, the only one that has any chance of being broken this year is Pennsylvania: Rep. Conor Lamb is among the Democratic candidates to succeed outgoing Sen. Pat Toomey. However, even this is unlikely as recent reporting suggests that moderate forces in the party are declining to unite around him to displace current Democratic frontrunner Lt. Gov. John Fetterman.

  3. Flickertail-Pembina on April 8, 2022 at 10:40 am

    MN: Mostly true indeed; aside from “Tina” Smith (former lieutenant governor) and Dayton (onetime auditor and governor) most senators from it have become nationally very well-known figures (note: Smith and Mondale were initially appointed to the same Class 2 seat).

    PA: By inference Fetterman seems to have merely plurality support in his bid for the D nomination.

  4. Flickertail-Pembina on April 13, 2022 at 1:33 am

    UT: “Abe” Murdock also has the distinction of being the only senator to have failed to win and serve a second term since the Direct Vote era began. There is a non-trivial chance that “Mitt” Romney (one of 7 Rs to vote to convict on that insurrection-related second impeachment trial, as well as one of 3 Rs to affirmatively vote on the KBJ associate justice nomination; also in his 70s) will become the second popularly-elected single-termer from the Beehive State after the ’24 elections.

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