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Mark Pryor Could Face Historic Defeat in 2014

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No incumbent U.S. Senator has lost a general election race coming off a victory in which he did not face a major party opponent

markpryor10.jpgWhen word came out that buzzworthy freshman GOP Arkansas U.S. Representative Tom Cotton would indeed be launching his U.S. Senate candidacy this week, the Republican Party got a little more optimistic about not only winning Democrat Mark Pryor's seat, but also taking back the chamber.

A lot of things have to go right for the GOP to net the five seats necessary to pry back control of the Senate, and picking off the two-term Democrat's seat in the increasingly red state of Arkansas is critical to that mission.

But although Pryor, the son of former Arkansas governor and three-term U.S. Senator David Pryor, may seem ripe for defeat in 2014, Representative Cotton is taking a pathway that few have found successful.

As Smart Politics reported in March, Cotton's candidacy faces challenging odds on paper: only 17 House freshmen have been elected to the Senate over the last century, and just two during the last 40 years (Minnesota's Rod Grams in 1994 and Kansas' Sam Brownback in 1996).

That is what Cotton has going against him.

On top of that, there is this bit of history going for Pryor.

The Democratic Senator is coming off a 2008 campaign in which the Republican Party did not even field a candidate and Pryor was victorious by 59.1 points over the Green Party's Rebekah Kennedy.

So what are the odds Pryor could come back six years later after facing no major party competition and then lose the 2014 general election?

It's never happened to an incumbent before.

A Smart Politics analysis finds that no incumbent U.S. Senator has lost a general election race coming off a victory in which he did not face a major party opponent.

(Note: Included in this study are independents or third party candidates who faced only one major party incumbent in their victory).

Since states began electing U.S. Senators via popular vote a century ago, there have been 142 contests in which only one major party candidate appeared on the ballot.

A total of 88 of these Senators ran in the subsequent general election and all 88 were reelected.

Of the remaining Senators, 23 died in office, 17 opted not to run for reelection, two resigned during their term, and nine lost their party's nomination: Democrats Thomas Hardwick (Georgia, 1918), Nathaniel Dial (South Carolina, 1924), Joseph Ransdell (Louisiana, 1930), Coleman Blease (South Carolina, 1930), Edwin Broussard (Louisiana, 1932), Hubert Stephens (Mississippi, 1934), Wall Doxey (Mississippi, 1942), Absolom Robertson (Virginia, 1966), and Republican Dick Lugar (Indiana, 2012).

(The remaining three Senators on this list still await their fate: Arkansas's Pryor (in 2014), South Dakota Republican John Thune (in 2016), and independent Bernie Sanders of Vermont (in 2018)).

Not only have these incumbent Senators enjoyed an unblemished general election record coming off a victory without a major party opponent, but very few follow-up races have even been close.

Among incumbents like Pryor who did not face major party competition in the previous cycle, the average victory margin in the subsequent cycle for these U.S. Senators has been 72.0 points, with just three decided by less than 10 points:

· In 1962, five-term Alabama Democrat J. Lister Hill narrowly defeated Republican James Martin by just 1.7 points - after not facing a Republican challenger during his previous two victories in 1950 and 1956.

· In 1996, three-term Virginia Republican John Warner beat Democrat Mark Warner by 5.1 points after facing only an independent candidate in 1990 - Nancy Spannaus, who failed to get 20 percent of the vote. (The latter Warner would later win the former's open seat in the Election of 2008).

· In 2006, two-term Arizona Republican Jon Kyl followed up his 71.5-point blow-out victory over a Democrat-less field six years prior with a 9.8-point win over Jim Pederson.

No other race has been decided by less than 18 points among these 88 contests.

Of course, most of the races with only one major party candidate on the ballot over the years have taken place in the South, where Democrats enjoyed effective one-party rule for decades.

Still, the average victory margin by such Senate incumbents coming off a race without such a challenger has been nearly as obscene over the last 50 years (50.3 points) as the first 50 years (79.6 points).

As previously mentioned, Cotton would be the first freshman U.S. Representative in 18 years to win a Senate seat, although he wouldn't be the first in the history of his state.

Of the 11 U.S. Representatives who successfully won a U.S. Senate seat in Arkansas since statehood, Democrat J. William Fulbright did so as a freshman - defeating three-term Senator Hattie Caraway to nab his party's nomination in 1944 and subsequently win five general elections.

Fate of U.S. Senate Incumbents in Cycle After Facing No Major Party Opposition*

State
Senator
Party
Cycle 1
Cycle 2
Result
MoV
OR
Fred Mulkey
REP
1906 (s)
N/A
Did not run
 
GA
Thomas Hardwick
DEM
1914 (s)
1918
Lost nomination
 
AL
Frank White
DEM
1914 (s)
N/A
Did not run
 
FL
Duncan Fletcher
DEM
1914
1920
Won
43.5
SC
Cotton Ed Smith
DEM
1914
1920
Won
100.0
LA
Robert Broussard
DEM
1914
N/A
Died
 
VA
Claude Swanson
DEM
1916
1922
Won
45.4
MS
John Sharp Williams
DEM
1916
N/A
Did not run
 
LA
Edward Gay
DEM
1918 (s)
N/A
Did not run
 
OR
Fred Mulkey
REP
1918 (s)
N/A
Did not run
 
SC
William Pollock
DEM
1918 (s)
N/A
Did not run
 
AR
Joseph Robinson
DEM
1918
1924
Won
47.0
LA
Joseph Ransdell
DEM
1918
1924
Won
100.0
MS
Pat Harrison
DEM
1918
1924
Won
100.0
SC
Nathaniel Dial
DEM
1918
1924
Lost nomination
 
AL
John Bankhead
DEM
1918
N/A
Died
 
MN
Knute Nelson
REP
1918
N/A
Died
 
VA
Thomas Martin
DEM
1918
N/A
Died
 
LA
Edwin Broussard
DEM
1920
1926
Won
100.0
SC
Cotton Ed Smith
DEM
1920
1926
Won
100.0
GA
Thomas Watson
DEM
1920
N/A
Died
 
GA
Walter George
DEM
1922 (s)
1926
Won
100.0
PA
David Reed
REP
1922 (s)
1928
Won
30.4
GA
William Harris
DEM
1924
1930
Won
100.0
LA
Joseph Ransdell
DEM
1924
1930
Lost nomination
 
MS
Pat Harrison
DEM
1924
1930
Won
100.0
SC
Coleman Blease
DEM
1924
1930
Lost nomination
 
WI
Robert La Follette, Jr.
REP
1925 (s)
1928
Won
74.6
ND
Gerald Nye
NPL
1926 (s)
1926
Won
57.4
IA
David Stewart
REP
1926 (s)
N/A
Did not run
 
GA
Walter George
DEM
1926
1932
Won
85.6
LA
Edwin Broussard
DEM
1926
1932
Lost nomination
 
SC
Cotton Ed Smith
DEM
1926
1932
Won
96.3
MN
Henrik Shipstead
F-L
1928
1934
Won
20.7
MS
Hubert Stephens
DEM
1928
1934
Lost nomination
 
WI
Robert La Follette, Jr.
REP
1928
1934
Won
23.5
VA
Claude Swanson
DEM
1928
N/A
Did not run
 
AL
John Bankhead II
DEM
1930
1936
Won
74.8
AR
Joseph Robinson
DEM
1930
1936
Won
69.0
MS
Pat Harrison
DEM
1930
1936
Won
100.0
SC
James Byrnes
DEM
1930
1936
Won
97.7
VA
Carter Glass
DEM
1930
1936
Won
87.0
GA
William Harris
DEM
1930
N/A
Died
 
LA
Huey Long
DEM
1930
N/A
Died
 
AR
Hattie Caraway
DEM
1932 (s)
1932
Won
79.4
GA
Richard Russell
DEM
1932 (s)
1936
Won
100.0
LA
John Overton
DEM
1932
1938
Won
99.7
FL
Duncan Fletcher
DEM
1932
N/A
Died
 
TN
Nathan Bachman
DEM
1934 (s)
N/A
Died
 
CA
Hiram Johnson
REP
1934
1940
Won
69.1
MS
Theodore Bilbo
DEM
1934
1940
Won
100.0
FL
Park Trammell
DEM
1934
N/A
Died
 
FL
Claude Pepper
DEM
1936 (s)
1938
Won
64.9
LA
Rose McConnell Long
DEM
1936 (s)
N/A
Did not run
 
MN
Guy Howard
REP
1936 (s)
N/A
Did not run
 
GA
Richard Russell
DEM
1936
1942
Won
93.9
LA
Allen Ellender
DEM
1936
1942
Won
100.0
MN
Ernest Lundeen
F-L
1936
N/A
Died
 
MS
Pat Harrison
DEM
1936
N/A
Died
 
AR
John Miller
IND/DEM
1937 (s)
N/A
Resigned
 
AL
J. Lister Hill
DEM
1938 (s)
1938
Won
72.8
GA
Walter George
DEM
1938
1944
Won
100.0
LA
John Overton
DEM
1938

1944

Won
100.0
MS
Theodore Bilbo
DEM
1940
1946
Won
100.0
VA
Harry Byrd, Sr.
DEM
1940
1946
Won
35.9
CA
Hiram Johnson
REP
1940
N/A
Died
 
FL
Charles Andrews
DEM
1940
N/A
Died
 
MS
Wall Doxey
DEM
1941 (s)
1942
Lost nomination
 
SC
Burnet Maybank
DEM
1941 (s)
1942
Won
100.0
AR
John McClellan
DEM
1942
1948
Won
86.4
GA
Richard Russell
DEM
1942
1948
Won
99.8
LA
Allen Ellender
DEM
1942
1948
Won
100.0
MS
James Eastland
DEM
1942
1948
Won
100.0
SC
Burnet Maybank
DEM
1942
1948
Won
92.9
AL
John Bankhead II
DEM
1942
N/A
Died
 
VA
Carter Glass
DEM
1942
N/A
Died
 
GA
Walter George
DEM
1944
1950
Won
100.0
LA
John Overton
DEM
1944
N/A
Died
 
AL
John Sparkman
DEM
1946 (s)
1948
Won
68.0
MS
Theodore Bilbo
DEM
1946
N/A
Died
 
NC
J. Melville Broughton
DEM
1948 (s)
N/A
Died
 
AR
John McClellan
DEM
1948
1954
Won
100.0
GA
Richard Russell
DEM
1948
1954
Won
100.0
LA
Allen Ellender
DEM
1948
1954
Won
100.0
MS
James Eastland
DEM
1948
1954
Won
91.1
AL
J. Lister Hill
DEM
1950
1956
Won
100.0
AR
William Fulbright
DEM
1950
1956
Won
66.0
SC
Olin Johnston
DEM
1950
1956
Won
64.5
GA
Walter George
DEM
1950
N/A
Did not run
 
FL
Spessard Holland
DEM
1952
1958
Won
42.5
MS
John Stennis
DEM
1952
1958
Won
100.0
VA
Harry Byrd, Sr.
DEM
1952
1958
Won
43.1
CA
William Knowland
REP
1952
N/A
Did not run
 
TX
M. Price Daniel
DEM
1952
N/A
Resigned
 
NC
Samuel Ervin
DEM
1954 (s)
1956
Won
33.1
NC
W. Kerr Scott
DEM
1954 (s)
N/A
Died
 
SC
Strom Thurmond
IND DEM
1954
1956
Won
100.0
AR
John McClellan
DEM
1954
1960
Won
99.9
GA
Richard Russell
DEM
1954
1960
Won
99.9
LA
Allen Ellender
DEM
1954
1960
Won
59.5
VA
Absolom Robertson
DEM
1954
1960
Won
67.2
SC
Strom Thurmond
DEM
1956 (s)
1960
Won
100.0
AL
J. Lister Hill
DEM
1956
1962
Won
1.7
FL
George Smathers
DEM
1956
1962
Won
40.1
GA
Herman Palmadge
DEM
1956
1962
Won
100.0
LA
Russell Long
DEM
1956
1962
Won
50.9
MS
John Stennis
DEM
1958
1964
Won
100.0
VA
Harry Byrd, Sr.
DEM
1958
1964
Won
44.8
AR
John McClellan
DEM
1960
1966
Won
100.0
GA
Richard Russell
DEM
1960
1966
Won
100.0
SC
Strom Thurmond
DEM
1960
1966
Won
24.4
VA
Absolom Robertson
DEM
1960
1966
Lost nomination
 
GA
Herman Palmadge
DEM
1962
1968
Won
55.0
MS
John Stennis
DEM
1964
1970
Won
76.8
AR
John McClellan
DEM
1966
1972
Won
21.8
GA
Richard Russell
DEM
1966
N/A
Died
 
LA
Allen Ellender
DEM
1966
N/A
Died
 
LA
Russell Long
DEM
1968
1974
Won
100.0
VT
George Aiken
REP
1968
N/A
Did not run
 
MS
John Stennis
DEM
1970
1976
Won
100.0
HI
Daniel Inouye
DEM
1974
1980
Won
59.5
LA
Russell Long
DEM
1974
1980
Won
18.9
AL
James Allen
DEM
1974
N/A
Died
 
MS
John Stennis
DEM
1976
1982
Won
28.4
WV
Robert Byrd
DEM
1976
1982
Won
37.7
VA
Harry Byrd, Jr.
IND
1976
N/A
Did not run
 
AL
Howard Heflin
DEM
1978
1984
Won
26.2
LA
J. Bennett Johnson
DEM
1978
1984
Won
76.9
MS
Thad Cochran
REP
1990
1996
Won
43.6
VA
John Warner
REP
1990
1996
Won
5.1
AR
David Pryor
DEM
1990
N/A
Did not run
 
GA
Sam Nunn
DEM
1990
N/A
Did not run
 
AZ
Jon Kyl
REP
2000
2006
Won
9.8
KS
Pat Roberts
REP
2002
2008
Won
23.6
MA
John Kerry
DEM
2002
2008
Won
34.9
MS
Thad Cochran
REP
2002
2008
Won
22.9
VA
John Warr
REP
2002
N/A
Did not run
 
IN
Dick Lugar
REP
2006
2012
Lost nomination
 
VT
Bernie Sanders
IND
2006
2012
Won
46.1
AR
Mark Pryor
DEM
2008
2014
TBD
 
SD
John Thune
REP
2010
2016
TBD
 
VT
Bernie Sanders
IND
2012
2018
TBD
 
* Included in this study are independents or third party candidates who faced only one major party incumbent in their victory. Cycle 1 indicates an election in which only one major party was on the ballot. Cycle 2 indicates the subsequent election for that seat. Table compiled by Smart Politics.

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4 Comments


  • Not to nitpick, but Pryor is a TWO term US Senator having been first elected in 2002 and reelected in 2008.

  • Yes - Pryor's two-term status is mentioned in the second paragraph:

    A lot of things have to go right for the GOP to net the five seats necessary to pry back control of the Senate, and picking off the two-term Democrat's seat in the increasingly red state of Arkansas is critical to that mission.

  • Dick Lugar? In 2006, he only had a Libertarian to run against. They he forgot how to campaign and stayed in Virginia and lost his primary to Murdock. I know this article mentions general election but Lugar became so unpopular with his Republican base that he couldn't get out of the primary.

  • Lugar is one of the nine of the 142 aforementioned Senators who then went on to lose his party's nomination (he's listed in the table).

  • Leave a comment


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