It has been a half-century since an incumbent party failed to hold its at-large U.S. House seat for two full terms

Of the six at-large U.S. House races on the ballot in 2024, only the ranked choice voting contest in Alaska is expected to be competitive.

Democrat Mary Peltola ended a 25-cycle drought for her party with special and general election victories less than three months apart in 2022, but 2022 candidate Nick Begich III is back for a rematch in a state with a nearly double-digit GOP partisan tilt.

Peltola is a fairly popular political figure in the Last Frontier State and Democrats are counting on her to hold the seat in their attempt to win back the nation’s lower legislative chamber for the 119th Congress.

On paper, history is on Peltola’s side.

Over the last half-century, no incumbent party has failed to hold an at-large U.S. House seat for at least two full terms.

The last at-large seat across the nation to flip-flop in less than two terms was Nevada’s in the mid-1970s.

In 1972, Republican real estate broker David Towell ended a string of seven straight Democratic victories after incumbent Walter Baring lost his party’s primary to attorney James Bilbray. Towell won by 4.3 points – hanging on to just enough of Richard Nixon’s 27.4-point coattails in the state.

During the subsequent 1974 Democratic wave, Towell was crushed by Clark County Judge Jim Santini by 19.3 points.

The Silver State’s at-large seat had previously not flipped in back-to-back cycles since 1946 and 1948.

Seven other states have been represented by a single at-large U.S. Representative over the last 50 years for at least part of this period.

Alaska’s aforementioned U.S. House seat has never flipped in consecutive cycles dating back to statehood. Prior to Peltola, Democrat Ralph Rivers was elected to four terms, Republican Howard Pollack to two, Democrat Nick Begich to two, and Republican Don Young to 25.

In Delaware, the most recent cycles with consecutive partisan pick-ups was 1956 and 1958: Harry Haskell knocked out freshman Democrat Harris McDowell in the former with McDowell taking back his seat in the rematch two years later.

Montana gained a seat after the 2020 reapportionment, but had an at-large U.S. Representative during the previous 30 years. Democrat Pat Williams won his eighth and ninth terms in 1992 and 1994 with six Republicans holding the seat through the 2020 cycle.

North Dakota’s single seat has been held by the incumbent party for multiple terms since its creation in 1972. It was held by Republican Mark Andrews for four terms, Democrats Byron Dorgan and Earl Pomeroy for 15, and Republicans Rick Berg, Kevin Cramer, and Kelly Armstrong for the last seven.

Neighboring South Dakota has also not had its at-large seat flip in consecutive cycles since being created in 1982. Democrats Tom Daschle and Tim Johnson held it for seven terms, Republicans John Thune and Bill Janklow for three-plus, Democrat Stephanie Herseth for three-plus, and Republicans Kristi Noem and Dusty Johnson for seven.

Vermont’s at-large seat has remained in the incumbent party’s hands for at least two full cycles since 1960. William Meyer picked up an open seat for the Democrats in 1958 but Republican Robert Stafford unseated the freshman lawmaker in 1960.

The GOP followed that up with 15 more consecutive general and special election victories by Stafford, Richard Mallory, Jim Jeffords, and Peter Smith. Independent Bernie Sanders won the next eight races with Democrats Peter Welch and Becca Balint claiming the next nine.

Wyoming’s seat last changed partisan control in back to back general elections during the mid-1960s. Democratic Attorney Teno Roncalio unseated William Harrison in 1964. But Roncalio ran for the U.S. Senate in 1966 and Harrison won back the open seat.

The GOP held the seat in 1968, Roncalio won it back for the Democrats for four terms, and six Republicans carried it during the last 24 general and special elections.

Arizona (1911-1948) and Hawaii (1959-1968) also had at-large U.S. House seats in the 20th Century with neither state seeing its seat(s) flip in back-to-back cycles.

New Mexico only had at-large U.S. House seats from 1911 through the 1968 cycle with Republicans being the last party to fail to retain it for two full terms with a loss in 1932.

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  1. Flickertail-Pembina on May 5, 2024 at 9:16 am

    Perhaps no member of *either* party would be relieved not to have a “contingent” presidential balloting in the House of Representatives (in the event President Biden, Defendant Trump, or “Nepo Baby” RFK, jr fail to attain ‘270’) than the second-term representative – a dilemma not even Ralph Rivers in 1960 ended up facing.

    Though Peltola empirically has the most Republican-oriented constituency of any Democrat, her colleagues representing Central & Northern ME and SW WA are facing even more precarious prospects, IMO.

  2. Connor Cobb on May 7, 2024 at 10:01 pm

    1 interesting thing I noticed recently is how much dichogamy AK and HI have. Yes. HI is blue, AK is red and both have been that way since statehood but 1 article that you wrote 2 years ago discussing how rare AK governors are reelected. IN 2022, Mike Dunleavy became the 1st reelected since 1998 and only the 4th in state history, HI is the exact opposite as only 2 governors have ever lost reelection and all but 3 senators previously served in the house whilst in AK absolutely no congressman has ever been elected to the senate as of 2024, hell I don’t think any have tried.
    Another article I was looking back on is how common it is for governors to run for senate and how uncommon it is for senators to run for governor. This year has both with Jim Justice likely to win the senate seat in WV and Mike Braun has now won the republican primary for IN governor meaning that he’ll be only the 10th or 11th sitting senator to be elected governor in the direct election era if I’m not mistaken.

    • Cecil Crusher on May 8, 2024 at 8:54 am

      – In addition to Dunleavy, “Tony” Knowles, “Jay” Hammond, and “Bill” Egan, Sean Parnell served an unexpired term (2009~2010; after ascension from LTGUV) and an elected term (2010~2014), as well as “Wally” Hickel, elected in 1966 (as a Republican) and 1990 (non-R, though rejoined the party in ’94).

      – Indeed, in contrast to similar states like MT and ND, the state has been an anomaly in terms of its A-L US representatives not even making any attempt at a US senate seat (curiously, Republican Don Young evidently passed on a bid in 1980 against controversial D incumbent M Gravel). If Peltola were to survive this year – at any margin – she may yet become the very first House member even to make a bid in 2026 or perhaps an open seat in 2028, given that she would have to stand for election every *2* years statewide anyway – and, in contrast to Don Young, will *always* be a prime (electoral) target of the Opposition as long as she serves.

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