Since 1972, all but two Democratic incumbents have been victorious if their party’s nominee carried the state at the top of the ticket

With the Democratic caucus having to defend twice as many U.S. Senate seats in 2024 than the GOP, the likelihood of Democrats retaining their slim majority in the chamber come January 2025 remains in doubt.

Split ticket voting in elections for president and U.S. Senator has been almost non-existent during the last two election cycles – occurring only once out of 69 contests in 2016 and 2020 (Maine voting for Joe Biden and Susan Collins in 2020).

Since 1916, there have been nearly twice as many examples of states voting for a Republican presidential nominee and a Democrat for U.S. Senator (155) than backing a Democrat for president and a Republican for the upper legislative chamber (79).

With Kyrsten Sinema leaving the party last year and Joe Manchin recently announcing his retirement, there are still a handful of vulnerable Democratic incumbents: Montana’s Jon Tester, Nevada’s Jacky Rosen, Pennsylvania’s Bob Casey, Wisconsin’s Tammy Baldwin, and Ohio’s Sherrod Brown.

To be sure, in the unlikely event that Joe Biden (the presumptive Democratic nominee) wins Montana or Ohio, there is little doubt Tester and Brown will prevail down the ballot.

But what about Nevada, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin?

If Biden wins those states could a GOP U.S. Senate nominee knock out any of these incumbents?

History suggests the odds are very unlikely.

Since 1972, only two Democratic U.S. Senators have lost reelection while their party’s presidential nominee carried the state.

It last happened in 1992 in Georgia, where Bill Clinton eked out a 0.6-point win against George H.W. Bush and first term Senator Wyche Fowler lost a late November run-off to former State Senator Paul Coverdell by 1.3 points.

The only other example during the last half-century also took place in Georgia: in 1980, four-term Senator Herman Talmadge fell 1.7 points to Mack Mattingly as Jimmy Carter carried his home state by 14.8 points.

Overall, just 11 Democratic incumbents since 1916 have lost U.S. Senate contests while their party carried the state in the race for president. The remaining nine outliers are:

  • Kentucky, 1920: John Beckham
  • Rhode Island, 1928: Peter Gerry
  • Colorado, 1932 (special): Walter Walker
  • Illinois, 1940 (special): James Slattery
  • Kentucky, 1952: Thomas Underwood
  • Delaware, 1960: J. Allen Frear
  • California, 1964: Pierre Salinger
  • Maryland, 1968: Daniel Brewster
  • Pennsylvania, 1968: Joseph Clark

[Note: Colorado Democrat Charles Thomas also lost reelection in 1920, but was the National Party nominee].

Walker, Slattery, Underwood, and Salinger had all been recently appointed to their seats, so that leaves just seven elected Democratic U.S. Senators who failed to successfully ride the coattails of their party’s presidential nominee since 1916.

Republican U.S. Senators, meanwhile, have lost at the ballot box 27 times while the GOP presidential nominee carried their state during this time period – most recently Ted Stevens of Alaska in 2008.

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  1. Flickertail-Pembina on November 29, 2023 at 8:44 pm

    1992: Had the Peach State applied the ‘runoff’ provision to its PRESIDENTIAL balloting (i.e. between Bush/Quayle and Clinton/Gore; neither garnered a majority within, as well as nationally) the R ticket more likely than not would have carried the electoral votes of the state (though that would not have changed the overall national result).

    At least one of the ’27’ is/was an APPOINTED incumbent – David Kemp Karnes of NE, who lost by about 15% even as the presidential ticket won the state by about 21% in 1988 (a 36-point differential); those were the days!

  2. Connor Cobb on November 29, 2023 at 9:40 pm

    2024 in WV is going to be the 1st time since 2014 that R’s picked up an open seat from D’s. R’s picked 4 D seats in 2018 and 1 in 2020, but all 5 of those were ousting the incumbent.

  3. John Chessant on December 3, 2023 at 5:41 pm

    With the expulsion of George Santos on Friday (the first Republican member of Congress to be expelled), former Rep. Tom Suozzi is considered a likely successor, to be chosen in a special election early next year. Suozzi would become one of the few U.S. House members with a break in service of less than two years.

    Among those who have served non-consecutive terms, a break in service of exactly two years is common. There are 7 current members who fit this criterion: Tim Walberg, Bill Foster, Dina Titus, Brad Schneider, Darrell Issa, Pete Sessions, David Valadao. [Claudia Tenney (like Issa, Sessions, and Valadao) lost her seat in 2018 and was elected again in 2020, but was sworn in late due to a prolonged recount.] And two in recent memory had *two* breaks of exactly two years: Carol Shea-Porter and Ann Kirkpatrick. In some cases this arises when a member in a safe seat is swept out in a wave election, and is elected back in the next cycle when the district ‘reverts to normal’.

    However, a break in service shorter than two years requires exceptional circumstances. The most recent example is Colleen Hanabusa, who served from 2011 to 2015, declining to seek re-election in 2014 to instead run against appointed Sen. Brian Schatz in that year’s special Democratic primary. She was succeeded in the House by Mark Takai, but Takai died in July 2016, and Hanabusa was elected back to the seat in a November special election.

    Other examples in modern times that come to mind:

    *Arthur G. Klein: served from 1941 to 1945, retiring due to redistricting; but when Rep. (and former Soviet agent) Samuel Dickstein resigned in December 1945 upon his election to the New York Supreme Court, Klein returned to the House via special election in February 1946 [defeating American Labor Party candidate Johannes Steel by a smaller-than-expected margin].
    *Albert W. Watson: first elected as a Democrat in 1962, he resigned and switched to the GOP in his second term in February 1965 after he lost his seniority for crossing party lines to support Barry Goldwater in 1964; he easily won the resulting special election in June 1965.
    *Phil Gramm: first elected as a Democrat in 1978, he resigned and switched to the GOP days into his third term in January 1983 after he was removed from the budget committee; he easily won the resulting special election in February 1983.
    *Ed Case: this one is a technicality. Rep. Patsy Mink died in September 2002 but was posthumously re-elected in November, setting up two special elections: one later in November to finish the term, and one in January for the new term. Case won both elections, but because the latter election was held on Jan. 4, 2003, after the expiration of the 107th Congress, he had a *one-day break* from Jan. 3 to Jan. 4, 2003. This is a detail apparently too trivial for most sources, particularly since the 108th Congress wasn’t even gaveled in until Jan. 7, but it is indeed reflected in his listing in Congress’s biographical directory. [A similar situation would have unfolded for Sen. David Perdue in 2021, as his runoff occurred on Jan. 5, 2021, after the expiration of his prior term – but he lost that election to Jon Ossoff.]

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