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States with the Longest US House Special Election Droughts

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Idaho has not hosted a special election to the House in its 122 years since statehood; Delaware last held one during the McKinley administration with Utah and New Hampshire during the Hoover years

ushouseseal10.pngSpecial elections to the House of Representatives often seem quite special because they can help feed the ever-growing appetite of the media and political junkies during those many months between general election cycles when there is little else taking place at the ballot box.

Special elections are frequently cast by the media as barometers for the next cycle or as a referendum on the presidential administration - even, at times, when the seats are not particularly competitive.

Special elections are conducted for a variety of reasons - the death of the representative (Donald Payne, NJ-10, 2012), a resignation due to scandal (Anthony Weiner, NY-09, 2011), or resigning to take a different position in (Dean Heller, NV-02, 2011) or out (Jane Harman, CA-36, 2011) of elected office.

In the spotlight this week is the special election to South Carolina's 1st CD seat on Tuesday between Democrat Elizabeth Colbert Busch, Republican Mark Sanford, and the Green Party's Eugene Platt.

This marks the first such contest in 11+ years in the Palmetto State.

And while that may not seem like a long time, 25 other states have had at least one special election since the last time South Carolina hosted such a race (a 2nd CD contest on December 18, 2001 won by GOP Representative Joe Wilson).

But the waiting period in South Carolina has not been nearly as long as in some states.

Eight states have not had the special election spotlight shined on them in contests for the nation's lower legislative chamber in at least 50 years.

And one state has yet to conduct a special election in its history.

A Smart Politics analysis finds that Idaho has compiled the longest period in the nation without hosting a special election to the House of Representatives at 122 years since statehood and counting.

Idaho's first U.S. Representative elected after achieving statehood in July 1890 was Republican Willis Sweet who served the at-large district until March 1895.

For the next 122 years since Sweet's first electoral victory, the Gem State has yet to conduct a special election for this office both through its varying periods of one at-large seat (1890-1913), two at-large seats (1913-1919), and its current configuration of two congressional districts (1919-present).

Even on the rare occasions when Idaho has suffered a death or resignation in its U.S. House delegation, there has been no special election to fill the seat.

For example, in June 1934 Democratic Thomas Coffin died during his first term in the chamber.

Despite nearly seven months remaining in the 73rd Congress, Coffin's seat remained vacant for the rest of the unexpired term.

Coffin's successor, future Democratic U.S. Senator David Worth Clark, was elected that November to the full term beginning January 1935, but no special election was held in the interim while the seat was vacant.

A decade later, four-term Republican U.S. Representative Henry Dworshak resigned his House seat on November 5, 1946, having just been elected to the Senate (in a special election to that seat).

With less than two months remaining of his unexpired House term, no special election was held and the seat stayed vacant throughout the remainder of the 79th Congress.

Idaho's string of 122+ years without a special election eclipses the second longest current stretch in the nation by more than a decade: Delaware's last such contest took place 112 years ago in November 1900 after the death of one-term Republican Rep. John Hoffecker.

Hoffecker's son, Walter, won the special election to Delaware's at-large seat and served out the remaining four months of his father's unexpired term.

Idaho's neighbor to the south Utah ranks third on the list with its last special election to the House coming on November 4, 1930, or 82+ years ago.

Five-term Republican Elmer Leatherwood died in office in December 1929 and the seat remained vacant for nearly a year before a special election was held in November 1930.

GOPer Frederick Loofbourow won that race as well as the race for the full term beginning March 1931. He took Leatherwood's vacant seat on December 1, 1930.

New Hampshire ranks a close fourth behind Utah with its last special election conducted 81 years ago on January 5, 1932.

Kansas (#5, 1950), Maine (#6, 1951), Nebraska (#7, 1951), and Iowa (#8, 1959) are the remaining four states to have last hosted a special election to the U.S. House more than 50 years ago.

(Note: When Kansas U.S. Representative Sam Brownback won a special election to Bob Dole's U.S. Senate seat in November 1996, Republican Jim Ryun was elected simultaneously to the unexpired term to Brownback's U.S. House seat as well as for the election for the regular term. As per Kansas Stat 25-3503 [d] a separate special election was not conducted for this unexpired seat).

Rounding out the Top 10 are North Dakota (1963) and Rhode Island (1967).

Although Idaho has gone the most years without a special election, it actually ranks #4 in terms of the largest number of consecutive U.S. House races without one.

Iowa is tops on this list, coming in at 157 straight U.S. House contests since its last special election was held.

The last time the Hawkeye State held a special election to the nation's lower legislative chamber was 53+ years ago when John Kyl won Iowa's 4th CD race. (Kyl is the father of former Arizona U.S. Representative and Senator Jon Kyl).

The race was held to fill the vacancy caused by the death of one-term Democrat Steven V. Carter one month prior.

Kansas has the second longest streak at 149 consecutive races without a special election followed by Minnesota at #3 with 144, Idaho in fourth at 120, and Tennessee at #5 with 108.

Rounding out the Top 10 are Texas at #6 (100 consecutive races), Utah at #7 (99), Nebraska at #8 (98), Colorado at #9 (96), and Alabama and Wisconsin tied at #10 (84 each).

Longest Period Since Last U.S. House Special Election by State

Rank
State
Date
District
# Races
Years
1
Idaho
(none)
N/A
120
122
2
Delaware
November 6, 1900
AL
56
112
3
Utah
November 4, 1930
2
99
82
4
New Hampshire
January 5, 1932
1
82
81
5
Kansas
November 7, 1950
3
149
62
6
Maine
October 22, 1951
3
67
61
7
Nebraska
December 4, 1951
3
98
61
8
Iowa
December 15, 1959
4
157
53
9
North Dakota
October 22, 1963
AL
29
49
10
Rhode Island
March 28, 1967
2
46
46
11
Montana
June 24, 1969
2
33
43
12
Vermont
January 7, 1972
AL
21
41
13
Alaska
March 6, 1973
AL
20
40
14
Minnesota
February 22, 1977
7
144
36
15
West Virginia
June 3, 1980
3
57
32
16
Colorado
March 29, 1983
6
96
30
17
Connecticut
August 18, 1987
4
72
25
18
Tennessee
November 8, 1988
2
108
24
19
Alabama
April 4, 1989
3
84
24
20
Wyoming
April 26, 1989
AL
12
24
21
Wisconsin
May 4, 1993
1
84
20
22
Missouri*
November 5, 1996
8
71
16
23
New Mexico
June 23, 1998
1
24
14
24
Arkansas
January 20, 2001
3
24
12
25
South Carolina**
December 18, 2001
2
37
11
26
Oklahoma
January 8, 2002
1
30
11
27
South Dakota
June 1, 2004
AL
5
8
28
North Carolina
July 20, 2004
1
65
8
29
Texas
November 7, 2006
22
100
6
30
Massachusetts
October 16, 2007
5
29
5
31
Virginia
December 11, 2007
1
33
5
32
Louisiana
May 3, 2008
1, 6
20
5
33
Mississippi
May 13, 2008
1
12
4
34
Maryland
June 17, 2008
4
24
4
35
Ohio
November 18, 2008
11
34
4
36
Florida
April 13, 2010
19
52
3
37
Pennsylvania
May 18, 2010
12
37
2
38
Hawaii
May 22, 2010
1
4
2
39
Georgia
June 8, 2010
9
27
2
40
Indiana
November 2, 2010
3
9
2
41
California
July 12, 2011
36
53
1
42
Nevada
September 13, 2011
2
4
1
42
New York
September 13, 2011
9
27
1
44
Oregon
January 31, 2012
1
5
1
45
Arizona
June 12, 2012
8
9
0
46
Kentucky
November 6, 2012
4
0
0
46
Michigan
November 6, 2012
11
0
0
46
New Jersey
November 6, 2012
10
0
0
46
Washington
November 6, 2012
1
0
0
50
Illinois
April 9, 2013
2
0
0
* Special election in South Carolina to be conducted on May 7, 2013 for the 1st CD. ** Special election in Missouri to be conducted on June 4, 2013 for the 8th CD. Table compiled by Smart Politics.

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