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Older and Wiser? Minnesota's Aging U.S. House Delegation

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Delegation has three 60+ year-old members for first time since 1958; reelection of all eight incumbents in 2010 would make it the second oldest delegation in Gopher State history

This is the second in a series of historical reports on Minnesota's U.S. House delegation. The first report examined the birth state of Minnesota's 133 U.S. Representatives since statehood.

When Michele Bachmann was elected to the U.S. House in 2006 she became not only the first female Republican U.S. Representative in Minnesota history, but one of just six newly-elected members to the U.S. House to win a first term at the age of 50 or greater since World War II.

Bachmann's election - as well as that of then 55 year-old Rep. John Kline in 2002 - continues a recent trend in Minnesota electoral history of electing older candidates to the state's U.S. House delegation.

A Smart Politics analysis of the 568 Minnesota U.S. House contests since statehood finds that the average age of those elected to the U.S. House in the current redistricting period is the oldest in history - by more than three years.

The current Minnesota delegation to the 111th Congress is sixth oldest on record since 1857 - with all four classes since 2002 landing in the top six of all time, and the election of all eight incumbents in 2010 would make it the second oldest delegation on record.

Since 2002, Minnesotans have elected candidates to the U.S. House at an average age of 55.5 years across 32 U.S House contests over four election cycles.

That marks an average age increase of 3.1 years from the previous record of 52.4 years, set during the previous redistricting period from 1992 through 2000.

The average Minnesota U.S. House delegation age across the 77 election cycles since 1857 has been 48.5 years.

Average Age of Minnesota U.S. Representatives by Redistricting Period

Period
Total age
Contests
Average
1857-1860
233
6
38.8
1862-1870
385
10
38.5
1872-1880
707
15
47.1
1882-1890
1,202
25
48.1
1892-1900
1,606
35
45.9
1902-1910
2,227
45
49.5
1912-1920
2,428
51
47.6
1922-1930
2,475
52
47.6
1932-1940
2,194
45
48.8
1942-1950
2,213
45
49.2
1952-1960
2,367
46
51.5
1962-1970
1,943
40
48.6
1972-1980
1,842
41
44.9
1982-1990
1,814
40
45.4
1992-2000
2,097
40
52.4
2002-2008
1,775
32
55.5
Data denotes the average age of victorious U.S. House candidates at the time of their election each election cycle compiled for each redistricting period. Includes special elections. Data compiled by Smart Politics from information provided by the Biographical Directory of the United States Congress.

The continued election of 18-term DFL Congressman Jim Oberstar is, of course, a partial explanation for these numbers. At 74 years of age, Oberstar became the second oldest Minnesotan ever elected to the U.S. House in 2008.

The oldest Minnesota U.S. Representative ever elected to D.C. is Farmer-Laborite Richard Thompson ("R.T.") Buckler - elected at the age of 75 for his fourth and final term in the U.S. House in 1940.

Aside from Oberstar and Buckler, only three other U.S. Representatives from Minnesota have been elected past the age of 70:

· Republican Loren Fletcher: elected at the age of 71 in 1904 for his sixth and final term.
· Republican Charles Davis: elected at the ages of 71 (1920) and 73 (1922) for his 10th and 11th terms in office.
· DFLer Roy Wier: elected at the age of 70 for his sixth and final term in 1958.

The oldest Minnesotan ever elected to the U.S. House for his or her first term in office was DFLer William Gallagher in 1944.

Gallagher was 69 years old when he defeated two-term GOP incumbent Richard Gale in the first year of the DFL merger. Gallagher was one of two DFLers elected to the U.S. House that cycle - winning the 3rd CD race. The Congressman died before the completion of his first term in office in August 1946.

But Oberstar alone is not responsible for the 'seasoned' U.S. House delegations the Gopher State has produced this decade.

As previously mentioned, the election of Representatives Bachmann and Kline - two members of Congress at or above the age of 50 upon winning their first term in office - had been a rarity in recent decades.

Bachmann (age 50 in 2006) and Kline (age 55 in 2002) are two of only six such members to win a first term in D.C. at the age of 50 or above since the end of World War II out of 40 newly-elected U.S. Representatives from Minnesota during this 62-year span (1946-2008).

The only other such Representatives are DFLer Roy Wier (age 60, 1948), Republican Ancher Nelson (age 54, 1958), Republican John Zwach (age 59, 1966), and DFLer David Minge (age 50, 1992).

The election of Kline and Bachmann might be reversing this trend and demonstrating that (political) life in Washington, D.C. can begin at 50 if you're from Minnesota.

From statehood in 1857 through 1944, 27 of the 93 newly-elected members to the U.S. House were at or above the age of 50 (29.0 percent) upon winning their first term in office.

That is nearly twice the rate of the percentage of newly-elected 50+ year-old members winning a first term since 1946 (6 of 40 representatives, 15.0 percent).

The election of Kline (age 61), DFLer Collin Peterson (62) and Oberstar (74) in 2008 marked the first time three members of the state's U.S. House delegation were 60 or more years old since Minnesota reverted back to an eight-member delegation in 1962.

Only three previous times in Minnesota history have three members of the 60+ club been elected to the U.S. House in the same election cycle:

· 1920: with the election of Republicans Charles Davis (71), Halvor Steenerson (68), and Andrew Volstead (60) to the state's 10-member delegation.
· 1956: with the election of DFLer Roy Wier (68), Republican August Andresen (66), and Republican Joseph O'Hara (61) to the state's nine-member delegation.
· 1958: with the election of Wier (70), Republican H. Carl Andersen (61), and Republican Walter Judd (60) to the state's nine-member delegation.

And if all favorites win reelection this November, the state delegation to the 112th Congress will nearly set an all-time record.

The reelection of all eight incumbents in 2010 would make Minnesota's delegation to the 112th Congress the second oldest on record, coming in at an average age of 56.4 years.

The delegation elected in 2008 was the sixth oldest in state history, at an average of 54.4 years.

All four election cycles this redistricting period have landed in the top six oldest U.S. House delegations out of the 77 election cycles in state history: 2004 (#1, 57.4 years), 2002 (#2, 55.4 years), 2006 (#4, 54.8 years), and 2008 (#6, 54.4 years).

Top 10 Oldest U.S. House Delegations in Minnesota History

Rank
Year
Total age
Seats
Average
1
2004
459
8
57.4
2
2002
443
8
55.4
3
1998
442
8
55.3
4
2006
438
8
54.8
5
1956
491
9
54.6
6
2008
435
8
54.4
7
1972
429
8
53.6
7
2000
429
8
53.6
9
1944
481
9
53.4
10
1996
426
8
53.3
Data compiled by Smart Politics from information provided by the Biographical Directory of the United States Congress.

Nearly all of Minnesota's all-time youngest U.S. House delegations were elected during the state's early years, when Minnesota had just two representatives: 1857 (#1, 32.5 years), 1859 (#5, 41.5 years), 1862 (#2, 33.0 years), 1864 (#3, 35.0 years), 1866 (#4, 37.0 years), and 1868 (#5, 41.5 years).

However, three delegations in modern electoral history do appear among the Top 10 youngest of all time.

The delegation of 1982 ranks as the 7th youngest, with an average age of 41.8 years. That delegation included GOPer Vin Weber (age 30) and DFLers Tim Penny (30) and Gerry Sikorski (34).

Weber (pictured) was the second youngest Minnesotan ever elected to the U.S. House at the age of 28 years and 3 months in the previous election cycle in 1980.

The youngest Representative ever elected to the U.S. House from Minnesota was Democrat Elmer Ryan from the 2nd Congressional District in 1934 at age 27 years and 5 months. Ryan was reelected in 1936 and 1938 and was the only Democrat elected to the U.S. House from Minnesota from 1934 until the DFL merger in 1944.

Only two other U.S. Representatives in Minnesota history were elected before the age of 30: Republicans Melvin Maas in 1926 (28 years and 5 months), and Sydney Anderson in 1910 (29 years and 1 month).

The youthful delegations of 1978 (#8, 41.9 years) and 1976 (#10, 42.9 years) also crack the Top 10.

For the record, the election of high profile DFL challengers like Tarryl Clark in the 6th CD (born in 1961) or Jim Meffert in the 3rd CD (1967) would lower the average age of the state's U.S. House delegation, while the election of GOPer Randy Demmer in the 1st CD (1957) would raise it.

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Previous post: Minnesota U.S. Representatives throughout History: A (Geographically) Open Casting Call
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