The Minnesotan is just the third U.S. Representative to attempt such a challenge since 1828

Of the more than 200 non-fringe presidential candidacies since 1972, just over a dozen were challengers to an incumbent from their own party. Three-term Minnesota U.S. Representative Dean Phillips added his name to that list last Friday.

Almost all of these candidates appeared on at least one primary ballot, but only two of them won any contests (Republican Ronald Reagan in 1976 and Democrat Ted Kennedy in 1980).

Rep. Phillips now joins 1972 GOP challengers Pete McCloskey of California and John Ashbrook of Ohio as the only sitting U.S. House members to challenge their party’s sitting president – not simply during the modern primary era, but since the dawn of the two-party system in 1828.

McCloskey, a three-term liberal Republican, won double-digit support against President Richard Nixon in three states, peaking in the nation’s first primary in New Hampshire (19.8 percent). He also won 13.5 percent in Massachusetts and 10.4 percent in Oregon after suspending his campaign on March 10th.

Ashbrook was a conservative six-term U.S. Representative who failed to reach 10 percent in any primary but did not withdraw until the day after the final contests on June 6th.

The remaining intra-party challengers to an incumbent president over the last 50 years include sitting or former governors Ronald Reagan (1976), Jerry Brown (1980), Cliff Finch (1980), and Bill Weld (2020), U.S. Senator Ted Kennedy (1980), former U.S. Representatives Joe Walsh (2020) and Mark Sanford (2020, also a former governor), conservative commentator Pat Buchanan (1992), author Marianne Williamson (2024), and attorney Robert Kennedy Jr. (2024, prior to switching to an independent bid).

Before 1972, no sitting U.S. Representative challenged an incumbent president from their own party.

[Note: A delegation pledged to the nomination of freshman California U.S. Representative John McGroarty did qualify for his state’s May 5th Democratic primary ballot against Franklin Roosevelt in 1936. McGroarty won 6.4 percent but did not appear on any other primary ballot and was not nominated at the national convention that June].

Sitting U.S. Representatives have not been shy in launching open seat presidential bids or when the incumbent is from the opposing party: Democrats Wilbur Mills of Arkansas (1972), Patsy Mink of Hawaii (1972), Shirley Chisholm of New York (1972), Mo Udall of Arizona (1976), Dick Gephardt of Missouri (1988, 2004), James Traficant of Ohio (1988), Dennis Kucinich of Ohio (2004, 2008), Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii (2020), Tim Ryan of Ohio (2020), Seth Moulton of Massachusetts (2020), and Eric Swalwell of California (2020) and Republicans John Anderson of Illinois (1980), Phil Crane of Illinois (1980), Bob Dornan of California (1996), John Kasich of Ohio (2000), Duncan Hunter of California (2008), Ron Paul of Texas (2008, 2012), Tom Tancredo of Colorado (2008), Michelle Bachmann of Minnesota (2012), and Thad McCotter of Michigan (2012) all sought the presidency since 1972.

Unlike McCloskey and Ashbrook, Phillips could have a good showing in the New Hampshire primary with President Biden not filing to appear on the ballot and Marianne Williamson the only other semi-known candidate. Tens of thousands of New Hampshire voters may still write-in Biden’s name as they did in 1968 when President Lyndon Johnson eked out a 7.7-point plurality win against Minnesota U.S. Senator Eugene McCarthy prior to announcing his decision not to run for another term.

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  1. John Chessant on October 30, 2023 at 10:17 pm

    Do you think Phillips will run for re-election to his House seat if he withdraws early enough from the presidential race? If not, reports indicate that Secretary of State Steve Simon is considering a run. He would become one of a few *incumbent* statewide officeholders to run for the U.S. House.

    I believe the last Minnesotan to attempt such a feat was Robert W. Mattson, Jr., who was serving as state auditor when he jumped into an open race for the 4th CD in 1976; he placed third in the Democratic primary won by Bruce Vento. [Minnesota’s U.S. House delegation does currently include a former statewide officeholder, but Michelle Fischbach was two years out of her lieutenant governor post before she became the representative from the 7th CD in 2021.]

    Looking to other states, five current members of the U.S. House arrived directly from a statewide perch: California’s John Garamendi (lieutenant governor), Kansas’s Ron Estes and Jake LaTurner (both treasurers), Oregon’s Val Hoyle (labor commissioner), and Rhode Island’s Seth Magaziner (treasurer). Garamendi, Estes, and LaTurner ran for the House in the middle of their terms [as Steve Simon would be doing]; Hoyle was eligible for re-election as labor commissioner but ran for the House instead; and Magaziner was term-limited as treasurer.

    [Two recent unsuccessful candidates: Pennsylvania’s Eugene DePasquale (auditor-general, ran for the 10th CD in 2020) and Rhode Island’s Sabina Matos (lieutenant governor, ran for the 1st CD in 2023).]

    • John Chessant on October 31, 2023 at 12:59 am

      Correction: There are six current U.S. representatives who held a statewide elected office during their initial run for the House; the five above plus Montana’s Matt Rosendale (auditor).

      The (hopefully complete) list since 2000:

      *Butch Otter: lieutenant governor of Idaho, 1987-2001 -> rep. 2001-07
      *James Langevin: secretary of state of Rhode Island, 1995-2001 -> rep. 2001-23
      *Bill Janklow: governor of South Dakota, 1979-87 & 1995-2003 -> rep. 2003-04
      *Katherine Harris: secretary of state of Florida, 1999-2002 -> rep. 2003-07
      *Candice Miller: secretary of state of Michigan, 1995-2003 -> rep. 2003-16
      *Mary Fallin: lieutenant governor of Oklahoma, 1995-2007 -> rep. 2007-11
      *Dean Heller: secretary of state of Nevada, 1995-2007 -> rep. 2007-11
      *Lynn Jenkins: treasurer of Kansas, 2003-08 -> rep. 2009-19
      *Mike Coffman: secretary of state of Colorado, 2007-09 -> rep. 2009-19
      *John Garamendi: lieutenant governor of California, 2007-09 -> rep. 2009-present
      *Todd Rokita: secretary of state of Indiana, 2002-10 -> rep. 2011-19
      *Kevin Cramer: member of the public service commission of North Dakota, 2003-12 -> rep. 2013-19
      *Ron Estes: treasurer of Kansas, 2011-17 -> rep. 2017-present
      *Matt Rosendale: auditor of Montana, 2017-21 -> rep. 2021-present
      *Jake LaTurner: treasurer of Kansas, 2017-21 -> rep. 2021-present
      *Seth Magaziner: treasurer of Rhode Island, 2015-23 -> rep. 2023-present
      *Val Hoyle: labor commissioner of Oregon, 2019-23 -> rep. 2023-present

      • Dr Eric J Ostermeier on October 31, 2023 at 8:29 am

        That’s a great list, John – thanks!

    • Dr Eric J Ostermeier on October 31, 2023 at 8:27 am

      Phillips would have plenty of time to campaign for president, fail, and still file to run for reelection (early June filing deadline for the mid-August 2024 primary). The 3rd CD is not nearly as competitive as it was before redistricting, so it is less risky for would-be top-tier DFLers to wait and see how long Phillips’ campaign lasts before jumping in, versus if it were a guaranteed open seat. In the meantime, Phillips is going to get some statewide name recognition, a slightly maverick reputation, and perhaps a clear path along the ‘centrist DFL lane’ should a certain two-term governor opt not to run in 2026.

  2. […] Dr. Eric Ostermeier writes in his Smart Politics blog that Rep. Dean Phillips joins 1972 GOP challengers Pete McCloskey of California and John Ashbrook of Ohio as the only sitting U.S. House members to challenge their party’s sitting president since the dawn of the two-party system in 1828. […]

  3. John on October 31, 2023 at 7:41 am

    At least someone has the fortitude to challenge Biden. In our duopoly, we are left with few choices that are not foisted on us by party kingpins. Depressing!

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