Patrick Murphy and a Brief History of US Senate Bids by Florida US Reps

Sitting or ex- Florida U.S. Representatives have won U.S. Senate seats in just two of 17 attempts since 1970

patmurphy10.jpgTwo-term Florida Congressman Patrick Murphy is expected to announce his candidacy for Florida’s 2016 U.S. Senate race later this month – giving Democrats a centrist candidate in what they hope is one of many pick-up opportunities as they seek to retake the chamber for the 115th Congress.

If Murphy enters the race it will be despite the uncertainty of incumbent Marco Rubio’s reelection plans.

Rubio is considered more likely than not to enter the Republican presidential sweepstakes this cycle. Such a bid, however, would not necessarily preclude Rubio from ultimately seeking reelection to his seat.

All this uncertainty has no doubt kept some Democrats at bay in what would otherwise likely be – if Rubio did not seek to keep his seat – a very competitive open seat race.

To date, only one Democrat is officially in the race – political novice, attorney, and former U.S. Navy Judge Advocate Pam Keith.

To be sure, Murphy boasts moderate credentials (serving a Romney-carried district) which could benefit him in a general election: National Journal ranked the Florida U.S. Representative as having just the 190th most liberal voting record in 2013 in a chamber with only 200 Democrats.

Despite this resume and established success in running for federal office, Murphy nonetheless would have to travel down a political road that few Florida U.S. Representatives have successfully navigated over the decades.

A Smart Politics analysis finds that sitting or ex-Florida U.S. Representatives have won only two of 17 bids for the U.S. Senate since 1970 (11 percent) and just four of 21 since direct elections were introduced a century ago (19 percent).

One does not have to look back very far in the Sunshine State’s electoral history to find several failed U.S. Senate candidacies from members of the nation’s lower legislative chamber.

In fact, six Florida U.S. Representatives have tried and failed over the last four races for the office:

● 2004: Former 10-term Republican Bill McCollum lost his party’s nomination won by Mel Martinez
● 2004: Six-term Democrat Peter Deutsch lost his party’s nomination to Betty Castor
● 2006: Two-term Republican Katherine Harris lost to incumbent Bill Nelson in the general election by 22.2 points
● 2010: Four-term Democrat Kendrick Meek finished a distant third, 28.7 points behind Marco Rubio and also trailing independent Charlie Crist
● 2012: Former seven-term Republican Dave Weldon lost the GOP nomination to Connie Mack IV
● 2012: Four-term Republican Connie Mack IV lost to incumbent Bill Nelson in the general election by 13.0 points

The long list of failed U.S. Senate candidacies by sitting or former U.S. Representatives over the last four decades continues:

● 1970: Eight-term Republican Representative Bill Cramer lost to Democrat Lawton Chiles by 7.7 points
● 1974: One-term Representative Bill Gunter lost the Democratic nomination in a race eventually won by Democrat Richard Stone
● 1980: Bill Gunter ran again, losing this time in the general election by 3.3 points to Republican Paula Hawkins
● 1980: Former five-term GOP Representative Louis Frey lost his party’s Senate nomination to Paula Hawkins
● 1988: Three-term Democratic Representative Buddy MacKay lost his Senate race against Connie Mack III by 0.9 points
● 1988: Bill Gunter’s third attempt at a U.S. Senate run found him narrowly losing the Democratic primary runoff to Buddy MacKay
● 1988: Five-term Democratic U.S. House member Dan Mica also lost his party’s nomination to Buddy MacKay
● 1992: Former two-term Democrat-turned-Republican Representative Bill Grant won just 34.6 percent of the vote against Democrat Bob Graham in the second of Graham’s three U.S. Senate electoral victories
● 2000: Ten-term GOP Representative Bill McCollum made the first of his two failed U.S. Senate bids, losing by 4.9 points to Bill Nelson

There have been two success stories during this 45-year span, although interestingly both general elections featured major party nominees who had both served in the chamber.

In 1988, three-term Republican U.S. Representative Connie Mack III defeated fellow delegation member Buddy MacKay to win Democrat Lawton Chiles’ open seat.

In 2000, former six-term Democratic Congressman and sitting Florida Treasurer and Insurance Commissioner Bill Nelson defeated Republican U.S. House member Bill McCollum to win Mack’s open seat.

One explanation for the large number of U.S. Senate candidacies by sitting and former members of the U.S. House over the last 40+ years is that the number of Floridians serving in the chamber has increased substantially during this period.

The state’s U.S. House delegation has increased from a dozen in the 1960s to 15 in the 1970s, 19 in the 1980s, 23 in the 1990s, 25 in the 2000s, and now 27 in the 2010s.

Of course, that also means each U.S. House member is representing a smaller and smaller fraction of the state’s population – an ever-increasing hurdle to building name recognition and a political base when running for statewide office.

Even so, when the state hosted a much smaller U.S. House delegation from the 1910s through the 1960s, there were only four U.S. Senate candidacies by Florida U.S. Representatives since the state’s first direct election in 1914.

In 1938, three-term Democratic Representative Mark Wilcox lost his party’s nomination in a race won by Democrat Claude Pepper.

In 1946, 10-term Democratic Congressman Lex Green lost his party’s nomination to Spessard Holland.

In 1950, two-term Democratic Representative George Smathers snatched his party’s nomination from two-term incumbent Democratic Senator Claude Pepper en route to a 52.6-point general election blowout victory over GOPer John Booth.

Smathers’ win is the only example in Florida history in which a Representative from the Sunshine State won a U.S. Senate race with a sitting incumbent up for election.

In 1968, in an open-seat race to replace the retiring Smathers, three-term Republican Representative Edward Gurney was victorious by 11.8 points over Democrat LeRoy Collins.

Murphy’s entrance into the race is unlikely to draw a field-clearing reaction on the Democratic side of the ballot, and reports surfaced yesterday that former Governor Charlie Crist is mulling a third run at the chamber (following losses in 1998 and 2010).

And, to be sure, if Rubio does not seek reelection to his seat there will likely be an avalanche of Florida Republicans angling to claim his seat – including at least one of the state’s 17 GOP U.S. Representatives.

Florida U.S. Senate Candidacies by Sitting or Ex- U.S. Representatives

Year
US Representative
Party
Terms
Served
Outcome
1938
Mark Wilcox
Democrat
3
1933-1939
Lost nomination
1946
Lex Green
Democrat
10
1925-1944
Lost nomination
1950
George Smathers
Democrat
2
1947-1951
Won
1968
Edward Gurney
Republican
3
1963-1969
Won
1970
Bill Cramer
Republican
8
1955-1971
Lost general
1974
Bill Gunter
Democrat
1
1973-1975
Lost nomination
1980
Louis Frey
Republican
5
1969-1979
Lost nomination
1980
Bill Gunter
Democrat
1
1973-1975
Lost general
1988
Buddy MacKay
Democrat
3
1983-1989
Lost general
1988
Bill Gunter
Democrat
1
1973-1975
Lost nomination
1988
Dan Mica
Democrat
5
1979-1989
Lost nomination
1988
Connie Mack III
Republican
3
1983-1989
Won
1992
Bill Grant
Republican*
2
1987-1991
Lost general
2000
Bill Nelson
Democrat
6
1979-1991
Won
2000
Bill McCollum
Republican
10
1981-2001
Lost general
2004
Peter Deutsch
Democrat
6
1993-2005
Lost nomination
2004
Bill McCollum
Republican
10
1981-2001
Lost nomination
2006
Katherine Harris
Republican
2
2003-2007
Lost general
2010
Kendrick Meek
Democrat
4
2003-2011
Lost general
2012
Connie Mack IV
Republican
4
2005-2013
Lost general
2012
Dave Weldon
Republican
7
2005-2009
Lost nomination

* Bill Grant was originally elected to the U.S. House as a Democrat. Table denotes candidates who ran at least through their party’s primary. Compiled by Smart Politics.

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1 Comment on "Patrick Murphy and a Brief History of US Senate Bids by Florida US Reps"

  1. If Murphy runs for the Senate, not only do I not think he can win, it will open up his seat for another Republican in Congress. Remember Alan West was gerrymandered out of his seat and ran against Murphy. In spite of Murphy’s ads touting his independence, he pretty much always votes with Obama.

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