Go to HHH home page.
Smart Politics
 


Ensign Departure Still Leaves Big Opportunity for Democrats in 2012 Nevada Senate Race

Bookmark and Share

Partisan control has flipped in every open general election Nevada U.S. Senate race since first popular vote contest in 1908

If you're wondering why Nevada Republican Senator John Ensign waited more than one and a half years to announce he was retiring from his seat, when his extramarital affair with an aide's wife had been exposed in June of 2009, it is because Senators do not normally leave their privileged office quietly.

Ensign was aggressively campaigning for reelection up until a few days ago when he announced on Monday that he would retire at the end of his term so that his family would not have to endure what would be a brutal reelection bid.

To be sure, Ensign's retirement is unusual, as most Senators leave Washington D.C. in defeat or in a coffin.

Of the 19 U.S. Senators from the Silver State who have held office since popular vote elections were introduced there in 1908, just four have retired from office, and only one on their own terms or untouched by scandal.

· Five Senators from Nevada died in office: Republican George Nixon and Democrats Francis Newlands, Key Pittman, James Scrugham, and Pat McCarran.

· Seven Senators were defeated at the ballot box in a reelection bid: Republicans William Massey (1912), Tasker Oddie (1932), Ernest Brown (1954), George Malone (1958), and J. Chic Hecht (1988), and Democrats Charles Henderson (1920) and Howard Cannon (1982).

· Two Senators were unsuccessful candidates for their party's renomination: Democrats Berkeley Bunker (1942) and Edward Carville (1946).

That leaves just three Nevadans who retired from their U.S. Senate seat in addition to Ensign and the state's senior Senator Harry Reid who won reelection in 2010.

Democrat Alan Bible retired from office after his fourth term in 1974, but only due to ill health at the time (he would live another 14 years).

Republican Paul Laxalt retired after just two terms in 1986 after the release of a series of newspaper reports (and subsequent libel court battles) regarding his potential ties to organized crime and the accusation that money was being illegally skimmed from a casino owned by the Senator.

The difference between Laxalt and Ensign, however, is that despite rumors of criminal wrongdoing with Laxalt, he announced his retirement with an approval rating of 70 percent, according to Ronald Reagan's presidential pollster Dick Wirthlin.

While Ensign has only been found guilty of moral misconduct, there was no guarantee Ensign would have survived a Republican challenge in next year's GOP primary.

That leaves only one Senator from Nevada that left office quietly and on his own terms over the last 100+ years: Democrat Richard Bryan, who retired after two terms in 2000.

Bryan surprised many of his colleagues when he announced his retirement on February 18, 1999 - or about two and a half weeks before Ensign at that point in the 2000 election cycle.

Laxalt announced he would not seek another term on August 19, 1985 - some six months after Ensign at that stage of the 1986 cycle.

And how will Ensign's retirement affect Democratic chances to pick up the seat?

While Democrats may have preferred to have the chance to knock off an embattled incumbent rather than a potentially stronger GOP nominee (such as U.S. Representative Dean Heller), Nevada electoral history gives Democrats excellent odds.

U.S. Senate incumbents in Nevada have won 27 out of 34 contests since popular vote elections were introduced in the Silver State in 1908, or a 79.4 percent success rate.

However, in open seat races, the political party has held its seat just 20 percent of the time, or 1 out of 5 contests, and never in a general election:

· When Democrat Dick Bryan retired in 2000, Ensign and the GOP picked up the seat by cruising to a 15-point victory over Edward Bernstein.

· When Laxalt retired in 1986, Democrats picked up his seat with Harry Reid's 5.5-point win over Jim Santini.

· After Democrat Alan Bible's retirement in 1974, Paul Laxalt picked up the seat for the GOP with a 624-vote victory over Harry Reid.

· After appointed Democratic Senator Edward Carville failed to receive his party's nomination in 1946, Republican George Malone picked up the seat for the GOP with a 10-point win over former Senator Berkeley Bunker.

The only time a seat was held without an incumbent on the ballot was in 1942 when appointed Senator Bunker failed to receive the Democratic nomination. James Scrugham, however, held the seat for the Democrats in a special election with a 17-point win over Republican Cecil Creel.

Update: Dennis Myers, News Editor of the Reno News & Review, points out that the first three U.S. Senate Nevada elections in 1908, 1910, and 1912 (special) were voter preference ballots. The Nevada legislature eventually chose the Senators selected by the public in each of these elections. Myers also contends that despite media reports that Senator Bible was retiring due to ill health, Bible did not cite ill health in his retirement speech. As noted above, Bible did live for more than a decade after his retirement.

Follow Smart Politics on Twitter.

Previous post: Most Popular Google Autocomplete Search Results for the Nation's 50 Governors
Next post: What's in a Photo? A Political Analysis of Gubernatorial Portraits

Leave a comment


Remains of the Data

Who Has Won the Most Votes in US Senate Electoral History?

Only three of the Top 10 and nine of the Top 50 vote-getters of all time are currently serving in the chamber.

Political Crumbs

Six for Thirteen

Collin Peterson remarked last month that he is leaning to run for reelection to Minnesota's 7th Congressional District in 2016. If he does and is victorious, he will creep even closer to the top of the list of the longest-serving U.S. Representatives in Minnesota history. The DFL congressman is only the sixth Minnesotan to win at least 13 terms to the U.S. House of the 135 elected to the chamber in state history. Peterson trails 18-term DFLer Jim Oberstar (1975-2011), 16-term Republicans Harold Knutson (1917-1949) and August Andresen (1925-1933; 1935-1958), and 14-term DFLers Martin Sabo (1979-2007) and John Blatnik (1947-1974). Andresen died in office, Sabo and Blatnik retired, and Knutson and Oberstar were defeated at the ballot box in 1948 and 2010 respectively. At 70 years, 7 months, 11 days through Monday, Peterson is currently the ninth oldest Gopher State U.S. Representative in history. DFLer Rick Nolan of the 8th CD is the seventh oldest at 71 years, 1 month, 23 days.


Seeing Red

Congressman Nick Rahall's failed bid for a 20th term in West Virginia this cycle, combined with a narrow loss by Nick Casey to Alex Mooney in Shelley Moore Capito's open seat, means that West Virginia Democrats will be shut out of the state's U.S. House delegation for the first time in over 90 years. The Republican sweep by two-term incumbent David McKinley in the 1st CD, Mooney in the 2nd, and Evan Jenkins over Rahall in the 3rd marks the first time the GOP has held all seats in the chamber from West Virginia since the Election of 1920. During the 67th Congress (1921-1923) all six seats from the state were controlled by the GOP. Since the Election of 1922, Democrats have won 76 percent of all U.S. House elections in the Mountain State - capturing 172 seats compared to 54 for the GOP.


more POLITICAL CRUMBS

Humphrey School Sites
CSPG
Humphrey New Media Hub

Issues />

<div id=
Abortion
Afghanistan
Budget and taxes
Campaign finances
Crime and punishment
Economy and jobs
Education
Energy
Environment
Foreign affairs
Gender
Health
Housing
Ideology
Immigration
Iraq
Media
Military
Partisanship
Race and ethnicity
Reapportionment
Redistricting
Religion
Sexuality
Sports
Terrorism
Third parties
Transportation
Voting