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Which State's US Senators are Drawn from the House at the Highest Rate?

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Hawaii, Virginia, Massachusetts, Maryland, and Connecticut dip into the US House the most frequently; Alaska, Oregon, Wyoming, Florida, and Nebraska the least

senateseal.pngOne of the many stories to watch in the 2012 election cycle will of course be the balance of power in the U.S. Senate.

And among the 33 senatorial races on the ballot next year are 12 contests in which current or former members of the U.S. House (or both) are vying for the seat: in Arizona, Connecticut, Florida, Hawaii, Indiana, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, and Wisconsin.

But how common is it for U.S. Senators to first serve in the House of Representatives?

And how much variation is there between the states in electing Senators with previous U.S. House experience?

A Smart Politics biographical review of the nearly 2,000 U.S. Senators in American history finds that only three in 10 first served in the U.S. House.

Overall, of the 1,931 men and women who have served in the U.S. Senate since its inception in 1789, just 600 first served in the U.S. House, or 31 percent.

(Note: there have been additional members of Congress who first served in the Senate, and then were subsequently elected to the House; this study examines the much more common House-to-Senate pathway).

The states with the highest and lowest rates of U.S. Senators with House experience are the two youngest states in the nation's history: Hawaii (60 percent, 3 of 5) and Alaska (0 percent, 0 of 7).

Discounting the first two senators Hawaii sent to D.C. at statehood in 1959 (Oren Long and Hiram Fong, who by definition could not have first served as an elected U.S. Representative), all remaining Senators from the Aloha State came from the U.S. House (Democrats Daniel Akaka, Daniel Inouye, and Spark Matsunaga).

Hawaii has one current (Mazie Hirono) and one former (Ed Case) Democratic U.S. House member running for retiring Democrat Daniel Akaka's seat in 2012.

Rounding out the Top 5 states on this list are Virginia at 49.1 percent (with 26 of 53 senators previously serving in the House), Massachusetts at 48.0 percent (24 of 50), Maryland at 44.6 percent (25 of 56), and Connecticut at 43.6 percent (24 of 55).

Connecticut also has a pair of candidates with House experience running for that state's open seat to replace retiring independent Joe Lieberman: three-term Democrat Chris Murphy from the state's 5th CD (pictured) and former 11-term GOP representative Chris Shays.

Among the 24 former Connecticut U.S. Senators who were first elected to the U.S. House, seven took office during the current era of direct elections: Democrats Augustine Lonergan, Francis Maloney, Abraham Ribicoff, Thomas Dodd, and Chris Dodd and Republicans Frank Brandegee and Lowell Weicker.

In addition to Alaska, six other states have been represented by senators of which less than one in five were first elected to the House since statehood: Oregon at 8.1 percent (3 of 37), Wyoming at 14.3 percent (3 of 21), Florida at 14.3 percent (5 of 35), Nebraska at 16.7 percent (6 of 36), Minnesota at 17.9 percent (7 of 39), and Utah at 18.8 percent (3 of 16).

But the House-to-Senate pathway has been more common of late.

In the 112th Congress, 49 of the current 100 U.S. Senators previously had a stint in the U.S. House - 25 Republicans, 23 Democrats, and one independent.

Among these are 14 state delegations: Arizona, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Maryland, Mississippi, Nevada, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and South Dakota.

Overall, these 49 U.S. Senators served an average of 4.7 terms in the House before beginning their respective Senate tenures, which is slightly higher than the 3.6-term average among the 600 senators throughout history who first served in the House.

Among current senators, Maryland Democrat Ben Cardin logged in the most time in the nation's lower legislative chamber at 10 terms, with Washington Democrat Maria Cantwell recording the shortest stint at just one term in the House.

In addition to Chris Shays of Connecticut and Ed Case of Hawaii, other former U.S. Representatives running for the Senate in 2012 include Republicans Pete Hoekstra of Michigan, Heather Wilson of New Mexico, and Mark Neumann of Wisconsin.

And while historically it has not been uncommon for senators to endure a gap in service between the House and Senate, it is fairly rare when examining the current makeup of the legislative body.

Of the 600 U.S. Senators who first served in the House over the last 220+ years, 242 had a break in service between their time in the House until winning or being appointed to the Senate, or 40.3 percent, while 358 continued their service in Congress without interruption.

However, of the current 49 senators on Capitol Hill with a House tenure on their resume, only seven saw a gap between their time in the House and the Senate, or 14.3 percent.

Florida Democrat Bill Nelson had the biggest gap at 10 years, followed by Delaware Democrat Tom Carper at eight years, Washington Democrat Maria Cantwell and Pennsylvania Republican Pat Toomey at six years, Ohio Republican Rob Portman and Oklahoma Republican Tom Coburn at four years, and South Dakota Republican John Thune at two years.

Carper served two four-year terms as Governor of Delaware during his absence in Congress while Nelson launched a failed gubernatorial bid in Florida in 1990 but won election in 1994 and 1998 to become the Sunshine State's Treasurer and Insurance Commissioner.

Of the former U.S. Representatives running for Senate in 2012, Neumann has been out of the House since 1999, Case since 2007, Shays and Wilson since 2009, and Hoekstra since January 2011.

The longest gap in history for a former representative to win a U.S. Senate seat is 28 years - a feat recorded by two Georgia Democrats: Alfred Colquitt and Thomas Watson.

Colquitt was elected to the House for the 33rd Congress in 1852 and served from 1853 to 1855 but did not run for election.

Before winning his first term in the U.S. Senate some 28 years later in 1883, Colquitt served in the George State House, joined the Confederate Army and attained the rank of major general, and was elected Governor of Georgia.

Watson, meanwhile, was elected on the Populist ticket in 1890 to the 52nd Congress but left the House in 1893 after losing his reelection bid in 1892. (He later lost House elections in 1894 and 1918).

Watson was the presidential nominee for the People's Party in 1904 and won over 114,000 votes nationwide.

In 1920, Watson returned to Capitol Hill when he was elected as a Democrat to the Senate, where he served for one and a half years before dying in office.

Overall, 15 members of Congress have had a gap in congressional service between the House and Senate of 20+ years.

Other U.S. Representatives running for the Senate in 2012 are Republicans Jeff Flake (AZ-06), Connie Mack (FL-14), Todd Akin (MO-02), Denny Rehberg (MT-AL), and Rick Berg (ND-AL) and Democrats Joe Donnelly (IN-02), Shelley Berkley (NV-01), Martin Heinrich (NM-01), and Tammy Baldwin (WI-02).

Percentage of U.S. Senators Who Were First Elected to the U.S. House by State

Rank
State
# First elected to US House
Total # of Senators
Percent
1
Hawaii*
3
5
60.0
2
Virginia
26
53
49.1
3
Massachusetts
24
50
48.0
4
Maryland
25
56
44.6
5
Connecticut*
24
55
43.6
6
Maine
15
36
41.7
7
Washington
9
23
39.1
7
New Hampshire
25
64
39.1
9
Oklahoma
7
18
38.9
10
Indiana*
17
44
38.6
11
South Dakota
10
26
38.5
12
Vermont
15
40
37.5
13
New York
22
59
37.3
14
Michigan*
14
38
36.8
15
Illinois
18
49
36.7
16
Kentucky
24
66
36.4
17
Pennsylvania
19
53
35.8
18
Ohio
20
56
35.7
19
Georgia
21
60
35.0
20
Iowa
11
33
33.3
21
Mississippi
14
44
31.8
22
Arkansas
11
35
31.4
23
Tennessee
18
58
31.0
24
Alabama
12
40
30.0
24
Arizona*
3
10
30.0
24
Montana*
6
20
30.0
27
Texas
9
31
29.0
28
Colorado
10
35
28.6
28
South Carolina
16
56
28.6
30
North Carolina
15
53
28.3
31
Delaware
14
51
27.5
32
North Dakota*
6
22
27.3
33
Kansas
9
34
26.5
34
Wisconsin*
7
27
25.9
35
New Mexico*
4
16
25.0
35
West Virginia
8
32
25.0
37
Idaho
6
26
23.1
38
California
9
43
20.9
39
Louisiana
10
48
20.8
39
Rhode Island
10
48
20.8
41
New Jersey
13
64
20.3
42
Missouri*
9
45
20.0
42
Nevada*
5
25
20.0
44
Utah
3
16
18.8
45
Minnesota
7
39
17.9
46
Nebraska
6
36
16.7
47
Florida*
5
35
14.3
47
Wyoming
3
21
14.3
49
Oregon
3
37
8.1
50
Alaska
0
7
0.0
* Denotes a state in which a current or former U.S. House member is running for a U.S. Senate seat in 2012. Table includes Senators who were elected and appointed to the office, including the first two senators elected at statehood. Data compiled by Smart Politics.

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Remains of the Data

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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

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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.


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