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Return of the King: Charlie Crist and Ex-Governor Comebacks

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More than half of ex-governors have been victorious in general election bids to return to their old seats since 1945

charliecrist10.jpgIt is unclear at this point whether Charlie Crist's most dangerous opponent in Florida's 2014 gubernatorial election is one-term Republican incumbent Rick Scott or current Democratic U.S. Senator Bill Nelson.

Crist, who kicked off his campaign for his old job earlier this month, has been consistently leading Governor Scott in matchup polls conducted over the last few years.

But recent reports now indicate Senator Nelson might consider entering the race if Crists' campaign to win back the seat for the Democratic Party for the first time since Lawton Chiles in 1994 begins to falter.

If Crist can keep Nelson on the bench over the next year, what kind of odds does he face in making a return to Tallahassee as the Sunshine State's chief executive?

A Smart Politics review of gubernatorial elections since the end of World War II finds that ex-governors have won back their old seat 57 percent of the time out of nearly seven-dozen such contests conducted during this 68-year period.

Since 1945, a total of 81 ex-governors have appeared on the general election ballot for their old seat, with 46 notching victorious campaigns, or 57 percent, and 35 losing in their comeback attempts.

During the 2010 cycle, three ex-governors won back their seats - California Democrat Jerry Brown, Iowa Republican Terry Branstad, and Oregon Democrat John Kitzhaber.

Two others, meanwhile, were unsuccessful in their comeback bids: Georgia Democrat Roy Barnes and Maryland Republican Bob Ehrlich.

In only two other cycles since the end of World War II have more ex-governors won elections to their old post.

In 1948, five former governors ran successful gubernatorial campaigns: Washington Republican Arthur Langlie and Democrats Henry Schricker of Indiana, Earl Long of Louisiana, Frank Lausche of Ohio, and Gordon Browning of Tennessee.

After the Election of 1982, four ex-governors - all Democrats - returned to their gubernatorial post: George Wallace of Alabama, Bill Clinton of Arkansas, Michael Dukakis of Massachusetts, and Rudy Perpich of Minnesota.

In addition to 2010, three ex-governors have been elected in three additional cycles over the past seven decades:

· 1960: Democrat Elbert Carvel of Delaware, Democrat Jimmie Davis of Louisiana, and Republican Edwin Mechem of New Mexico.

· 1986: Democrat Cecil Andrus of Idaho, Republican Henry Bellmon of Oklahoma, and Republican Bill Clements of Texas.

· 1990: Democrat Bruce King of New Mexico, Alaska-Independence nominee Wally Hickel, and Republican Richard Snelling of Vermont.

However, a deeper dig into the data finds the odds of success fall off a bit when these ex-governors square up against an incumbent - like Crist would face in Rick Scott.

During these governor-on-governor battles, ex-governors have knocked incumbents out of office just 12 times out of 29 contests since 1945, or 41 percent of the time.

Meanwhile, ex-governors have won 34 of 52 open seat contests, or 65 percent.

As for Florida, no ex-governors have made it back onto the general election ballot since the end of World War II. (Though Democrat Fuller Warren tried - losing his party's 1956 primary to LeRoy Collins eight years after his 1948 victory).

Over the last 168 years since statehood in 1845, Florida has elected an ex-governor into office only once: Democrat William Bloxham.

Bloxham made his first gubernatorial run as a Liberal Republican in 1872 - losing by 4.8 points to Republican Ossian Hart. Eight years later, Bloxham was elected in the Sunshine State in the first contest after Reconstruction and served four years.

Twelve years later, in 1896, Bloxham was elected to the governor's mansion for a second time in a landslide - winning by 46.3 points in a three-candidate field.

In addition to Charlie Crist, rumors have circulated that two other former governors might run for their old seat in 2014: Democrat Chet Culver of Iowa and Republican Bill Weld of Massachusetts.

Of course, the first step for all of these former governors is securing their party's nomination.

In addition to the 81 ex-governors that made it to the general election, there are more than three-dozen others who lost in their party's primary during this 65+- year span.

Crist is looking strong in that regard should Nelson remain out of the race - with former State Senate Minority Leader Nan Rich trailing the former Republican governor substantially in early polling.

Ex-Governors in Gubernatorial General Elections Since End of World War II

Year
State
Ex-Governor
Party
Outcome
1946
Georgia
Eugene Talmadge
Democrat
Won
1946
Kansas
Harry Woodring
Democrat
Lost
1946
Michigan
Murray Van Wagoner
Democrat
Lost
1948
Indiana
Henry Schricker
Democrat
Won
1948
Louisiana
Earl Long
Democrat
Won
1948
Ohio
Frank Lausche
Democrat
Won
1948
Tennessee
Gordon Browning
Democrat
Won
1948
Washington
Arthur Langlie
Republican
Won
1950
Michigan
Harry Kelly
Republican
Lost
1950
New Mexico
John Miles
Democrat
Lost
1951
Mississippi
Hugh White
Democrat
Won
1952
Missouri
Phil Donnelly
Democrat
Won
1954
Alabama
Jim Folsom
Democrat
Won
1954
Colorado
Ed Johnson
Democrat
Won
1954
Nevada
Vail Pittman
Democrat
Lost
1955
Kentucky
Happy Chandler
Democrat
Won
1956
Louisiana
Earl Long
Democrat
Won
1956
New Mexico
Edwin Mechem
Republican
Won
1956
Texas
Pappy O'Daniel
Democrat
Lost
1958
Maine
Horace Hildreth
Republican
Lost
1958
Tennessee
Jim McCord
Democrat
Lost
1960
Delaware
Elbert Carvel
Democrat
Won
1960
Louisiana
Jimmie Davis
Democrat
Won
1960
New Mexico
Edwin Mechem
Republican
Won
1962
South Dakota
Ralph Herseth
Democrat
Lost
1962
Tennessee
Frank Clement
Democrat
Won
1964
Massachusetts
John Volpe
Republican
Won
1964
Nebraska
Dwight Burney
Republican
Lost
1964
West Virginia
Cecil Underwood
Republican
Lost
1966
New Hampshire
Hugh Gregg
Republican
Lost
1966
Tennessee
Buford Ellington
Democrat
Won
1968
Arizona
Sam Goddard
Democrat
Lost
1969
New Jersey
Robert Meyner
Democrat
Lost
1970
Alabama
George Wallace
Democrat
Won
1970
Alaska
William Egan
Democrat
Won
1970
Iowa
Robert Fulton
Democrat
Lost
1971
Kentucky
Happy Chandler
Democrat
Lost
1972
Indiana
Matthew Welsh
Democrat
Lost
1972
Washington
Albert Rosellini
Democrat
Lost
1973
Virginia
Mills Godwin, Jr.
Republican
Won
1974
Ohio
Jim Rhodes
Republican
Won
1976
West Virginia
Cecil Underwood
Republican
Lost
1978
Alaska
Wally Hickel
Republican
Lost
1978
New Hampshire
Wesley Powell
Republican
Lost
1978
New Mexico
Bruce King
Democrat
Won
1978
Oklahoma
George Nigh
Democrat
Won
1979
Kentucky
Louie Nunn
Republican
Lost
1980
Missouri
Kit Bond
Republican
Won
1980
New Hampshire
Mel Thomson
Republican
Lost
1980
West Virginia
Arch Moore
Republican
Lost
1982
Alabama
George Wallace
Democrat
Won
1982
Arkansas
Bill Clinton
Democrat
Won
1982
Massachusetts
Michael Dukakis
Democrat
Won
1982
Minnesota
Rudy Perpich
Democrat
Won
1982
New Hampshire
Mel Thomson
Republican
Lost
1983
Louisiana
Edwin Edwards
Democrat
Won
1984
West Virginia
Arch Moore
Republican
Won
1986
Alaska
Wally Hickel
Republican
Lost
1986
Arkansas
Frank White
Republican
Lost
1986
Idaho
Cecil Andrus
Democrat
Won
1986
Ohio
Jim Rhodes
Republican
Lost
1986
Oklahoma
Henry Bellmon
Republican
Won
1986
Tennessee
Winfield Dunn
Republican
Lost
1986
Texas
Bill Clements
Republican
Won
1988
Montana
Thomas Judge
Democrat
Lost
1990
Alaska
Wally Hickel
AK-Independence
Won
1990
Maine
Joseph Brennan
Democrat
Lost
1990
New Mexico
Bruce King
Democrat
Won
1990
Vermont
Richard Snelling
Republican
Won
1991
Louisiana
Edwin Edwards
Democrat
Won
1992
North Carolina
Jim Hunt
Democrat
Won
1994
Alabama
Fob James
Republican
Won
1994
Maine
Joseph Brennan
Democrat
Lost
1994
South Dakota
Bill Janklow
Republican
Won
1996
West Virginia
Cecil Underwood
Republican
Won
2006
Alaska
Tony Knowles
Democrat
Lost
2010
California
Jerry Brown
Democrat
Won
2010
Georgia
Roy Barnes
Democrat
Lost
2010
Iowa
Terry Branstad
Republican
Won
2010
Maryland
Bob Ehrlich
Republican
Lost
2010
Oregon
John Kitzhaber
Democrat
Won
Table compiled by Smart Politics.

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8 Comments


  • You forgot:

    * Orval E. Faubus (D) in Arkansas in 1970, 1974, and 1986. (ALL LOSSES)
    * Mark White (D) in Texas in 1990
    * Preston Smith (D) in Texas in 1978
    * Claude R. Kirk (R) in Florida in 1978 & 1990.
    * Lester Maddox (D) in Georgia in 1990.

    * Technically Harold E. Stassen (R) in Pennsylvania in1958 and 1966. Stassen had been Governor of Minnesota.

  • Those aren't omissions -- these candidates (and a few dozen others) did not make it onto the general election ballot.

  • Great chart of information; thanks; but please Florida has never had a King and whoever wrote the above story line was trying to put Charlie Crist down; but then Honorable Rick Scott is NO KING either;

    Charlie Crist will be better than Rick Scott, but both Governors are still to blame for Florida Election Laws that only put Republicans at the top of the ballot in all races; considering this FACT....Charlie Crist will be an underdog of at least 10 percent and for that reason alone Charlie Crist will have a very difficult time unless independents support him.

    Rick Scott has only 6 months to correct the unfair and unconstitutional Florida Election Laws or I will strongly campaign either for myself or Charlie Crist.

    onballot.com

    whocareshalloffame.com

  • That Michigan ex-Governor who lost in 1946 was Murray Van Wagoner -- "Van" wasn't his middle name, but part of his last name.

  • Thanks - the table is now updated.

  • Eric - do you have a breakdown of how many of these races involved incumbents who were running in a different party than the one they were originally elected in, like Crist? I'm wondering just how much precedent there is for his run.

  • I believe there are only three ex-governors during this time period who made a comeback attempt after switching parties and made it to the general election: Mills Godwin (DEM to REP), Wally Hickel (REP to AK-IND, then back to REP) and Fob James (DEM to REP).

  • Interesting. Thanks!

  • Leave a comment


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