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McConnell Bucking History: Kentucky Has Nation's Highest Senator Turnover Rate

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The Minority Leader has the longest Senate tenure in Kentucky history, even though the state's two Senate seats have turned over 77 times, or an average of once per 2.8 years - the highest rate in the country

alisonlundergangrimes10.jpgKentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes' announcement today that she was entering the state's 2014 U.S. Senate race brings a high profile Democrat into the fold to challenge five-term GOP Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

McConnell remains an early favorite to keep his seat, but is still one of the Democratic Party's top targets during a cycle in which Republicans are expected to pick up a handful of seats and potentially take back control of the chamber.

And although there has been relative stability in McConnell's Class II Senate seat over the decades (just three Senators have held it since 1956), that fact belies some close calls the senior senator from the Bluegrass State has faced during his tenure, and the remarkably high turnover of U.S. Senators Kentuckians have endured the last two hundred years.

How high?

A Smart Politics review of turnover in the U.S. Senate finds that Kentucky has the highest rate in the nation with an average of one new Senator every 2 years and 10 months since statehood.

With McConnell approaching 28 years and six months in the chamber, one could say he has had an unusually long political half-life in the state.

Turnover in the U.S. Senate, of course, can happen for a number of reasons other than simply getting beat at the ballot box.

Senators have exited the chamber due to death, retirement, resigning out of scandal or to take a different position, expulsion, or getting removed from office after losing a contested election.

Smart Politics tallied each time a new Senator took office - for any reason - from each state after its first two Senators were sworn into office at statehood.

That number was divided into the number of years each state has had representation in the nation's upper legislative chamber (usually since statehood, but sometimes less, such as confederate states who lost representation during and after the Civil War).

Kentucky has had more turnover in its Senate seats - and the highest rate - than any other state in the country - turning over 77 times across 221 years since statehood, or a turnover rate of one Senator every 2 years and 10 months (2.87 years).

That rate has obviously dropped during the last few decades, with McConnell on track for 30 consecutive years of service following Dee Huddleston (12 years) and John Cooper (16+) who each served multi-term tenures before him.

But McConnell's seat has nearly turned over twice during his tenure.

After winning his first term by 0.4 points over Huddleston in 1984, McConnell narrowly escaped with a 4.4-point victory over Harvey Sloane in 1990 to win a second term and a 5.9-point win in 2008 against Bruce Lunsford to win a fifth.

Kentucky had a particularly tumultuous period during a decade-plus stretch from 1945 to 1956 when its two Senate seats turned over 10 times collectively on the heels of two resignations (Democrats Happy Chandler in 1945 and Alben Barkley in 1949) and two deaths (Democrats Virgil Chapman in 1951 and Alben Barkley in 1956).

The state with the second highest turnover rate in U.S. Senate history is New Jersey, averaging a new Senator every 3.11 years.

After October's special election, the Garden State will have had three Senators in 2013 representing its Class II seat (inching its turnover rate closer to Kentucky at 3.07).

Rounding out the Top 10 states are Tennessee at #3 (one new Senator every 3.26 years), New Hampshire at #4 (3.39), Georgia at #5 (3.40), Ohio at #6 (3.50), New York at #7 (3.56), Virginia at #8 (3.71), South Carolina at #9 (3.72), and Maryland at #10 (3.73).

Of the Top 10 states with the highest turnover, only one - Georgia - is guaranteed to have a new Senator after the 2014 cycle, with Republican Saxby Chambliss retiring at the end of his term.

The states with the lowest turnover rates are mostly out west with Hawaii and Alaska averaging a new Senator every 10.80 years, followed by Arizona (10.10), Utah (8.36), Oklahoma (6.63), New Mexico (6.31), Nevada (6.21), Montana (6.20), Wyoming (5.86), and Wisconsin (5.69).

However, not every western state has had a low turnover rate throughout the years with California coming in at #14 (3.88) and Oregon at #17 (3.95).

Likewise, not every eastern state has had a high turnover rate with Vermont at #37 (5.29), Maine at #33 (4.83), and Rhode Island at #30 (4.65).

The average turnover rate across the 50 states is one new Senator every 4.25 years.

U.S. Senator Turnover Rate by State

Rank
State
Years*
Turnover
Rate
1
Kentucky
221
77
2.87
2
New Jersey
224
72
3.11
3
Tennessee
212
65
3.26
4
New Hampshire
224
66
3.39
5
Georgia
214
63
3.40
6
Ohio
210
60
3.50
7
New York
224
63
3.56
8
Virginia
219
59
3.71
9
South Carolina
216
58
3.72
10
Maryland
224
60
3.73
11
Minnesota
155
41
3.78
12
Louisiana
194
51
3.80
13
Illinois
195
51
3.82
14
California
163
42
3.88
15
Mississippi
187
48
3.90
16
Colorado
137
35
3.91
17
North Carolina
217
55
3.95
17
Nebraska
146
37
3.95
17
Oregon
154
39
3.95
20
Massachusetts
224
56
4.00
21
Connecticut
224
55
4.07
21
Pennsylvania
224
55
4.07
21
Delaware
224
55
4.07
24
Indiana
197
46
4.28
25
West Virginia
150
35
4.29
26
Missouri
192
43
4.47
27
Idaho
123
27
4.56
27
Alabama
187
41
4.56
29
Michigan
176
38
4.63
30
Rhode Island
223
48
4.65
31
Kansas
152
32
4.75
32
Iowa
167
35
4.77
33
Maine
193
40
4.83
34
Florida
161
33
4.88
35
Texas
159
32
4.97
36
South Dakota
124
24
5.17
37
Vermont
222
42
5.29
38
Arkansas
170
32
5.31
39
North Dakota
124
22
5.64
39
Washington
124
22
5.64
41
Wisconsin
165
29
5.69
42
Wyoming
123
21
5.86
43
Montana
124
20
6.20
44
Nevada
149
24
6.21
45
New Mexico
101
16
6.31
46
Oklahoma
106
16
6.63
47
Utah
117
14
8.36
48
Arizona
101
10
10.10
49
Alaska
54
5
10.80
49
Hawaii
54
5
10.80
* Number of years is equal to the number of years each state has had representation in the U.S. Senate since statehood. Table compiled by Smart Politics.

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