Only one failed gubernatorial nominee from Pennsylvania has attempted a run for the U.S. Senate in the direct election era

Among the many light blue and purple states where Democrats are playing defense on 2024’s U.S. Senate map is Pennsylvania, where Bob Casey looks to become just the second senator to be elected to four (or more) terms in the direct election era (joining Republican Arlen Specter).

No Republican has officially filed for the seat, although 2022 U.S. Senate candidate David McCormick and last year’s GOP gubernatorial nominee, State Senator Doug Mastriano, have both expressed interest in running.

Casey will likely be favored against whomever Republicans nominate, but Casey’s campaign might privately be crossing their fingers for a Mastriano bid.

Mastriano’s 14.8-point loss to Josh Shapiro was the largest ever in an open-seat race for governor in the history of the Pennsylvania Republican Party and the fourth largest defeat for the party overall, trailing only:

  • 1990: Auditor General Barbara Hafer’s 32.4-point loss to Governor Robert Casey
  • 2006: Retired NFL football player Lynn Swann’s 20.7-point loss to Governor Ed Rendell
  • 2018: State Senator Scott Wagner’s 17.1-point loss to Governor Thomas Wolf

If Mastriano runs he will also aim to become the first failed gubernatorial nominee to win a Pennsylvania U.S. Senate race in the direct election era.

Since 1914, there have been 14 Democratic and 12 Republican losing gubernatorial nominees in Pennsylvania – none of whom have subsequently won a U.S. Senate seat.

In fact, 25 of them never even tried.

The only failed gubernatorial nominee who ran for the U.S. Senate since 1914 was Democratic Pittsburgh Mayor Peter Flaherty.

Flaherty actually made his gubernatorial run sandwiched in between two failed U.S. Senate campaigns.

While serving as mayor, Flaherty was the Democratic nominee for the upper legislative chamber in 1974 but lost to incumbent Richard Schweiker by 7.1 points.

Flaherty then secured the Democratic nomination in the 1978 open seat gubernatorial contest. Flaherty came up 6.1 points shy of victory, losing to Dick Thornburgh.

Two years later, Flaherty was again the Democratic nominee for the U.S. Senate, and this time lost the open seat race to former Philadelphia District Attorney Arlen Specter by just 2.4 points.

Other than Flaherty, no other failed Democratic or Republican gubernatorial nominee later set his or her sights on the U.S. Senate from the Keystone State.

However, while Flaherty could point to multiple competitive (single-digit) losses for statewide office in 1974 and 1978, Mastriano recorded a deficit of more than twice that of Flaherty’s largest loss.

It should be noted that not every failed gubernatorial candidate saw their political careers end. For example:

  • 1950 Democratic nominee Richardson Dilworth was elected Mayor of Philadelphia in 1955 (before another failed bid for governor in 1962)
  • 1966 Democratic nominee Milton Schapp won the gubernatorial elections of 1970 and 1974
  • 1990 Republican nominee Barbara Hafer was reelected state Auditor General in 1992 and then Treasurer in 1996 and 2000

Other unsuccessful nominees who eventually landed on their political feet include 1914 Democratic nominee Vance McCormick (elected DNC Chair two years later), 1946 Democratic nominee John Rice (appointed U.S. Ambassador to the Netherlands by John Kennedy), 1974 GOP nominee Drew Lewis (appointed U.S. Secretary of Transportation by Ronald Reagan), and 2002 GOP nominee Mike Fisher (appointed U.S. Circuit Court judge by George W. Bush).

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  1. Flickertail-Pembina on March 17, 2023 at 7:46 am

    “…not every failed gubernatorial candidate SAW HER OR HIS POLITICAL CAREER END”

    Of the current senators (select listing):

    * 1994: Susan Margaret Collins as R nominee garnered 23.1% in her failed bid for governor of ME
    * 1986: Bernard Sanders as an Independent candidate garnered 14.4% in his failed bid for governor of VT (he also lost in 1976 and
    1972 as nominee of the Liberty Union party)
    * 1994: Deborah Ann Greer Stabenow as D nominee for lieutenant governor of MI (Wolpe-Stabenow ticket) lost by a 38.5% to 61.5%
    margin to the R ticket
    * 1978: Richard Joseph Durbin as D nominee for lieutenant governor of IL (Bakalis-Durbin ticket) lost by a 40.1% to 59% margin to
    the R ticket

    If Mastriano manages to win the Senate election, his turnaround arguably would be the most rapid since that of Senator Collins, who went from a dismal third place loss to a 49% win in the Senate election just 2 years later. Can he hold the hardcore base plus win over the less dogmatic, less pro-MAGA voters in more populous venues such as Erie, Dauphin, Chester, and Bucks Counties?

  2. Daniel Fox on March 17, 2023 at 8:19 pm

    Steve Daines (R-Mont.) was also the Lt. Gov. nominee on a losing ticket (Brown-Daines) in 2008. And Gary Peters (D-Mich.) was the Democratic nominee for Michigan AG in 2002.

    Something else Daines, Durbin, Peters, and Stabenow have in common: after statewide defeats, each was elected to the U.S. House before winning their Senate seats.

    • Connor Cobb on March 17, 2023 at 9:04 pm

      I honestly think that Doug Mastriano would have a higher chance at running for a us house seat than running for the us senate.

    • John Chessant on March 24, 2023 at 10:46 pm

      as did Hirono and Welch!

  3. John Chessant on March 24, 2023 at 11:23 pm

    If Mastriano wins the nomination and loses the general election in 2024, he would join a small(-ish) group of politicians who were their party’s nominee for both governor and U.S. senator, without ever holding either office. The list of politicians in this category who had at least one of their runs this century, is:

    *Roxanne Conlin (D-IA): gov. 1982; sen. 2010
    *John M. Burris (R-DE): sen. 1984; gov. 2000
    *Libby Mitchell (D-ME): sen. 1984; gov. 2010
    *Jill Long Thompson (D-IN): sen. 1986; gov. 2008
    *Bill Schuette (R-MI): sen. 1990; gov. 2018
    *David L. Williams (R-KY): sen. 1992; gov. 2011
    *Jim Slattery (D-KS): gov. 1994; sen. 2008
    *Lee Fisher (D-OH): gov. 1998; sen. 2010
    *Doug Forrester (R-NJ): sen. 2002; gov. 2005
    *Dino Rossi (R-WA): gov. 2004, 2008; sen. 2010
    *Tim Michels (R-WI): sen. 2004; gov. 2022
    *Steve Pearce (R-NM): sen. 2008; gov. 2018
    *Martha Coakley (D-MA): sen. 2010; gov. 2014
    *Jack Conway (D-KY): sen. 2010; gov. 2015
    *Scott Milne (R-VT): gov. 2014; sen. 2016
    *Ed Gillespie (R-VA): sen. 2014; gov. 2017
    *Paulette Jordan (D-ID): gov. 2018; sen. 2020
    *Geoff Diehl (R-MA): sen. 2018; gov. 2022
    *Adam Laxalt (R-NV): gov. 2018; sen. 2022
    *Beto O’Rourke (D-TX): sen. 2018; gov. 2022
    *Mark Ronchetti (R-NM): sen. 2020; gov. 2022

    Also noteworthy here is Scott McCallum (R-WI), unsuccessful nominee for U.S. senator in 1982 who became governor in 2001 following Tommy Thompson’s resignation, and lost the 2002 election for a full term. Others who fit this description (nominee for both offices and never won an election for either office, but held one via appointment or ascension) include:

    *Hugh B. Mitchell (D-WA): sen. 1946; gov. 1952
    *Jim Folsom, Jr. (D-AL): sen. 1980; gov. 1994
    *Buddy MacKay (D-FL): sen. 1988; gov. 1998

    One other politician has lost general elections for both offices this century, albeit as a notable independent candidate: Greg Orman (I-KS), who garnered 42.5% of the vote as a Democratic-endorsed independent for U.S. senator in 2014, and 6.5% of the vote for governor on his own in 2018]. Another independent who launched notable campaigns for both offices was Charles Evers (I-MS), who ran for governor in 1971 and U.S. senator in 1978.

    Examples of unsuccessful major-party nominees for one office, who lost an election for the other office as an independent or third-party nominee, include:

    *Neil S. Bishop (I/R-ME): gov. 1952; sen. 1970
    *Frank Fasi (D/I-HI): sen. 1959; gov. 1982, 1994
    *Herschel Lashkowitz (I/D-ND): gov. 1960; sen. 1968
    *Sam Steiger (R/L-AZ): sen. 1976; gov. 1982
    *Bill Schulz (D/I-AZ): sen. 1980; gov. 1986
    *Marshall Coleman (R/I-VA): gov. 1981, 1989; sen. 1994

    • John Chessant on March 24, 2023 at 11:57 pm

      As can be seen, the 2022 elections added no fewer than five politicians to this list. However, under my definition, one can leave the list by eventually winning an election for either governor or U.S. senator. Some examples of politicians who managed to do so are:

      *Quentin Burdick (D-ND): lost gov. 1946, sen. 1956; won sen. 1960, 1964, 1970, 1976, 1982, 1988
      *Michael DiSalle (D-OH): lost sen. 1952, gov. 1956; won gov. 1958 [lost re-election in 1962]
      *Evan Mecham (R-AZ): lost sen. 1962, gov. 1978; won gov. 1986
      *Ted Kulongoski (D-OR): lost sen. 1980, gov. 1982; won gov. 2002, 2006
      *Asa Hutchinson (R-AR): lost sen. 1986, gov. 2006; won gov. 2014, 2018

      I wonder if any of last year’s five inductees will be able to pull off a similar feat. I’d imagine O’Rourke and Laxalt are the likeliest possibilities, but even then, losing two high-profile elections is indeed a nearly-insurmountable career setback.

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