Go to HHH home page.
Smart Politics
 


Do the Numbers Add Up for Mitch McConnell?

Bookmark and Share

McConnell is 1 of just 6 U.S. Senators in history to win three of their first five terms by single digits. Three subsequently retired. A fourth - Bob Packwood - resigned. The fifth? Harry Reid.

mitchmcconnell10.jpgA recent article in The Guardian noted that the numbers are on Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's side as he seeks reelection in the 2014 cycle that now includes Democratic challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes.

That report examines the eight midterm elections since 1982 to point out the strong historical odds in McConnell's favor given a) his incumbency advantage, b) having a president in the White House from the opposing political party, and c) representing a state where the party's presidential nominee ran better than he did nationwide.

McConnell, however, is no ordinary incumbent, and the Guardian does concede the Minority Leader has recorded some fairly low statewide approval ratings.

But the numbers, and history, go beyond that.

In fact, there is 100 years of Senate election data that shows McConnell is trying to accomplish something no one else has done before.

A Smart Politics review of U.S. Senate election data finds that Mitch McConnell is one of six Senators in history to win three of their first five terms by single digits and none, so far, went on to win a sixth.

Since the direct election of U.S. Senators a century ago, 70 Senators have won at least five consecutive terms to the chamber. (Another half-dozen senators won five terms non-consecutively).

Half of these Senators - 35 - were elected to a sixth term, which McConnell will attempt to accomplish in November 2014.

However, the road to 30 years in the U.S. Senate has not been easy for the senior senator from Kentucky.

After unseating two-term Democratic incumbent Dee Huddleston by just 0.4 points in 1984, McConnell escaped with a 4.4-point victory over Harvey Sloane in 1990 to win reelection and a second term.

McConnell coasted to relatively easy victories against Steve Beshear in 1996 (by 12.6 points) and Lois Combs Weinberg in 2002 (by 29.4 points) before winning a competitive 5.9-point race against Bruce Lunsford in 2008.

That makes three competitive races for the notoriously cutthroat Kentucky campaigner.

To win by single digits three times out of five races is very unusual in the annals of U.S. Senate electoral history, with only five others clinging on to victory by such narrow margins:

· Maine Republican Frederick Hale: Won his 1st term in 1916 by 7.2 points, his 2nd term in 1922 by 8.8 points, and his 5th term in 1934 by 0.4 points.

· Oregon Republican Mark Hatfield: Won his 1st term in 1966 by 3.5 points, his 2nd term in 1972 by 7.6 points, and his 5th term in 1990 by 7.5 points.

· Oregon Republican Bob Packwood: Won his 1st term in 1968 by 0.4 points, his 3rd term in 1980 by 8.1 points, and his 5th term in 1992 by 5.6 points.

· North Carolina Republican Jesse Helms (all five times): Won his 1st term in 1972 by 8.0 points, his 2nd term in 1978 by 9.0 points, his 3rd term in 1984 by 3.9 points, his 4th term in 1990 by 5.1 points, and his 5th term in 1996 by 6.7 points.

· Nevada Democrat Harry Reid: Won his 1st term in 1986 by 5.5 points, his 3rd term in 1998 by 0.1 points, and his 5th term in 2010 by 5.7 points.

And what happened to each of these five Senators after winning a fifth term?

Three opted not to run for a sixth: Hale (at age 66 in 1940), Hatfield (age 74 in 1996), and Helms (age 81 in 2002).

Packwood resigned nearly halfway into his fifth term in 1995 after a sex scandal and Ethics Committee investigation had the Senator poised for a likely expulsion later that year had he not done so.

Reid, meanwhile, will not be up for reelection for a potential sixth term until 2016 but remains an unpopular figure nationally and not particularly well-liked in his home state.

McConnell, who will be 72 years old when his name is on the ballot in November 2014, also faces another sobering bit of historical data:

Of the 70 U.S. Senators elected to five consecutive terms over the past century, McConnell is one of only nine who failed to reach the 55 percent mark while winning their fifth term - and none of the others won a sixth:

· Five did not run for reelection: Hale, Hatfield, Helms, and Democrats James Murray of Montana (in 1960) and Jennings Randolph of West Virginia (in 1984).

· One lost his party's nomination: Republican-turned-Democrat Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania (in 2010).

· One resigned: Packwood (in 1995).

· Two currently remain in office: McConnell (2008) and Reid (2010).

Overall, these 70 Senators recorded an average 67.1 percent of the vote across their first five victories.

McConnell, however, has averaged just 55.1 percent of the vote in his five wins - the seventh lowest mark among members of the five-timers club ahead of only Reid (52.1 percent), Helms (53.1 percent), Nevada Democrat Key Pittman (53.1 percent), Specter (53.9 percent), Murray (54.2 percent), and Packwood (54.5 percent).

Add to these numbers Smart Politics' recent observation that, despite McConnell's long run, Kentucky has the highest turnover rate of U.S. Senators in the nation at one new Senator every 2 years and 10 months, and it seems fair to say that McConnell is not a shoo-in for victory in 2014 just yet.

Follow Smart Politics on Twitter.

Previous post: McConnell Bucking History: Kentucky Has Nation's Highest Senator Turnover Rate
Next post: Terry Branstad: 11 Going on 14?

Leave a comment


Remains of the Data

Is There a Presidential Drag On Gubernatorial Elections?

Only five of the 20 presidents to serve since 1900 have seen their party win a majority of gubernatorial elections during their administrations, and only one since JFK.

Political Crumbs

Strike Three for Miller-Meeks

Iowa Republicans had a banner day on November 4th, picking up both a U.S. Senate seat and one U.S. House seat, but Mariannette Miller-Meeks' defeat in her third attempt to oust Democrat Dave Loebsack in the 2nd CD means the GOP will not have a monopoly on the state's congressional delegation in the 114th Congress. The loss by Miller-Meeks (following up her defeats in 2008 and 2010) means major party nominees who lost their first two Iowa U.S. House races are now 0 for 10 the third time around in Iowa history. Miller-Meeks joins Democrat William Leffingwell (1858, 1868, 1870), Democrat Anthony Van Wagenen (1894, 1912 (special), 1912), Democrat James Murtagh (1906, 1914, 1916), Democrat Clair Williams (1944, 1946, 1952), Democrat Steven Carter (1948, 1950, 1956), Republican Don Mahon (1966, 1968, 1970), Republican Tom Riley (1968, 1974, 1976), Democrat Eric Tabor (1986, 1988, 1990), and Democrat Bill Gluba (1982, 1988, 2004) on the Hawkeye State's Three Strikes list.


Larry Pressler Wins the Silver

Larry Pressler may have fallen short in his long-shot, underfunded, and understaffed bid to return to the nation's upper legislative chamber, but he did end up notching the best showing for a non-major party South Dakota U.S. Senate candidate in more than 90 years. Pressler won 17.1 percent of the vote which is the best showing for an independent or third party U.S. Senate candidate in the state since 1920 when non-partisan candidate Tom Ayres won 24.1 percent in a race won by Republican Peter Norbeck. Overall, Pressler's 17.1 percent is good for the second best mark for a non-major party candidate across the 35 U.S. Senate contests in South Dakota history. Independent and third party candidates have appeared on the South Dakota U.S. Senate ballot just 25 times over the last century and only three have reached double digits: Pressler in 2014 and Ayres in 1920 and 1924 (12.1 percent). Pressler's defeat means he won't become the oldest candidate elected to the chamber in South Dakota history nor notch the record for the longest gap in service in the direct election era.


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