The long-serving senator exits with nearly 13 million more votes cast for her than any other candidate for the office since 1913

California Democratic U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein’s recent announcement that she would not seek a seventh term in 2024 means her electoral numbers are now set in stone.

Feinstein will leave the chamber having received 34,725,660 votes in U.S. Senate general and special elections. [Note: primary elections were not included in this tally].

California’s senior senator first held this record after winning her third term in 2000 but flip-flopped with her then fellow delegation member Barbara Boxer who held the mark for two years after her 2004 and 2010 victories.

Feinstein has now appeared in the top slot without interruption since winning her fifth term in 2012 and has amassed nearly twice as many votes as the next sitting member of the chamber: New York Democrat Chuck Schumer (18,910,528).

It hardly needs to be mentioned that this record is not a measure of relative popularity between U.S. Senators. Membership on the all-time vote list is determined by a variety of factors such as 1) political longevity, 2) winning elections by large margins, 3) representing states with high voter turnout, and, most importantly, 4) representing states with large voting age populations.

As such, the appearance of two long-serving (and recently serving) California U.S. Senators at the top of this list should not be surprising given the Golden State’s relatively large population compared to other states at this point in history. Such candidates can quickly amass a large number of votes.

For example, fellow California Democratic Senator Alex Padilla, who has served only 761 days in the chamber (2 years, 1 month) is already 11h in all-time votes received in U.S. Senate contests.

Padilla won 13,180,919 votes last November in his special and general election contests to the state’s Class III seat.

Meanwhile, Iowa Republican Chuck Grassley won his eighth term to the chamber last November and ranks just outside the Top 50 in all-time votes with 6,184,033.

And recently retired eight-term Democrat Patrick Leahy from the sparsely-populated Vermont barely won a million votes (1,168,753) during the entirety of his senate career.

Boxer retired in 2016 in second place on the list with 21,759,341 votes. Schumer would be the next senator to pass her, but not until 2028 if he ran for a sixth term.

Rounding out the Top 10 all-time vote-getters are:

  • #4: California Democrat Alan Cranston (15,725,583)
  • #5: Texas Republican John Cornyn (15,658,226)
  • #6: Florida Democrat Bill Nelson (14,492,958)
  • #7: Massachusetts Democrat Ted Kennedy (13,403,673)
  • #8: New York Democrat Daniel Patrick Moynihan (13,349,930)
  • #9: Illinois Democrat Dick Durbin (13,309,571)
  • #10: New York Republican Jacob Javits (13,270,854)

Nelson and Javits are the only senator in the Top 15 who exited the chamber with a general election loss.

Six additional sitting and former members of the nation’s upper legislative chamber have cumulatively won more than 10 million votes as U.S. Senate candidates:

  • #12: Michigan Democrat Carl Levin (12,002,515)
  • #13: Florida Republican Marco Rubio (11,955,781)
  • #14: New York Democrat Kirsten Gillibrand (11,715,622)
  • #15: Pennsylvania Republican-turned-Democrat Arlen Specter (11,234,326)
  • #16: Texas Republican Kay Bailey Hutchison (10,536,814)
  • #17: New York Republican Al D’Amato (10,303,831)

D’Amato is the only other senator in the Top 20 to lose his last general election (falling in 1998 to Schumer). [Specter was defeated in his last primary in 2010].

Other sitting U.S. Senators in the Top 50 include Michigan Democrat Debbie Stabenow (#20; 9,163,534), Washington Democrat Patty Murray (#23; 8,821,601), Texas Republican Ted Cruz (#24; 8,700,690), Pennsylvania Democrat Bob Casey (#29; 8,207,785), and Ohio Democrat Sherrod Brown (#37; 7,378,567).

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  1. John Chessant on February 20, 2023 at 12:14 pm

    Who is the highest on the list who has never won a Senate election? I’d imagine it must be Mark Meuser, Padilla’s opponent who won about 8.4 million votes last year in the regular and special election. Are there any other non-senators in the Top 50?

    • Dr. Eric Ostermeier on February 20, 2023 at 12:51 pm

      Meuser is just outside the Top 25 with his 8.43 million sandwiched in between Texas’ Phil Gramm (8.44) and Lloyd Bentsen (8.36). One other candidate in the Top 50 lost three times (James Buckley) but did win one election. No others lost more than once.

  2. Flickertail-Pembina on February 21, 2023 at 8:58 am

    Jacob Koppel Javits in fact lost a GENERAL election – his last electoral contest in 1980, in which he garnered 664544 votes as the nominee of the now-practically-defunct Liberal Party.

    • Dr Eric J Ostermeier on February 21, 2023 at 10:48 am

      Good catch, thanks!

  3. Flickertail-Pembina on February 21, 2023 at 11:26 am

    In 03 of 2021, she surpassed progressive-isolationist Republican (also Class 1 seat occupant) Hiram Warren Johnson to become the longest-serving CA US senator. In 11 of 2022, she surpassed Old Line State Democrat Barbara Ann Mikulski to become the longest-serving XX US senator. However, had “Di Fi” garnered as few as 133,354 votes more than Peter Barton Wilson in the 1990 gubernatorial election, she might not have accumulated any votes for any US senate election – or alternatively she might have won fewer Senate elections after having served a term or two as governor.

  4. John Chessant on February 22, 2023 at 2:30 pm

    Feinstein is one of 4 current U.S. senators who were previously a losing major-party nominee for governor, the others being Welch, Collins, and Hirono. [Durbin, Stabenow, and Daines were losing nominees for lieutenant governor, while Peters was a losing nominee for attorney-general. Casey and Whitehouse ran for governor but lost in the primary; as did Manchin, though Manchin later won two terms as governor.]

    The 1990 gubernatorial elections lost by Feinstein and Welch are not, however, the earliest general elections for governor in which a current U.S. senator participated. Neither was the 1974 election lost by Inhofe, who resigned as senator last month. That distinction is held by Sanders, who ran for governor of Vermont in 1972, 1976, and 1986, placing third in the general election each time [the first two times as the nominee of the Liberty Union Party, the third as an independent].

    • Flickertail-Pembina on February 22, 2023 at 5:41 pm

      Departing Senator Stabenow lost the election as lieutenant governor – as part of the ticket with the gubernatorial nominee – after her own unsuccessful primary bid for governor – in the same 1994 cycle.

      Now-second-term Senator Padilla ended up with so many raw votes partly as result of a major change in state election law, i.e. a concurrent special election was mandated for the remaining portion of a Senate term if an appointee is serving (in 1964, to illustrate the point, no concurrent special was held for the remaining portion of the term of the late Clair Engle; also, the state had far fewer voters then and the result was far closer). Otherwise, Padilla would be placed much, much further down on the current list.

  5. Connor Cobb on February 25, 2023 at 8:53 pm

    David Cicilline announced his resignation which means that RI will have a special election for the us house for the 1st time since 1967, ending 1 of the longer droughts in this category.

    • Dr Eric J Ostermeier on February 27, 2023 at 8:24 am

      Indeed – Rhode Island is currently 7th (1967) behind Idaho (never), Delaware (1900), New Hampshire (1932), Maine (1951), Iowa (1959), and North Dakota (1963). Last year, Nebraska (1951), Alaska (1973), and Minnesota (1977) all fell out of the Top 10.

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