50 US Senators Who Ran for President Since 1972

Sitting or former U.S. Senators from 31 states ran for president more than 60 times from 1972 to 2012 with only one winning the White House; more than a half-dozen are gearing up to run in 2016

hillaryclinton11.jpgWith Hillary Clinton entering the presidential race on Sunday and Marco Rubio doing so on Monday, the number of current and former U.S. Senators lining up for a 2016 White House bid is approaching double-digits.

To date, eight such ex- or sitting members of the nation’s upper legislative chamber have either officially entered the race (New York’s Clinton, Republicans Ted Cruz of Texas, Rand Paul of Kentucky, and Rubio of Florida), formed an exploratory committee (Democrats Jim Webb of Virginia and Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island), or opened a ‘testing the waters’ account (Republicans Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania).

Other veterans of the U.S. Senate who may yet enter the race include independent Bernie Sanders of Vermont and, less likely, Vice President Joe Biden of Delaware.

That stands in stark contrast to the last presidential election cycle when only one challenger to the throne had served in the chamber – former two-term Republican Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania.

It has at times been en vogue in recent cycles to maintain that the pathway to the presidency runs through governorships and not the U.S. Senate – with Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush all boasting that resume.

However, it has certainly not been unusual for U.S. Senators to run for the presidency over last 200+ years, and many have successfully done so – although only one since 1972 when a majority of the states adopted primaries or caucuses to award convention delegates.

Prior to 1972, U.S. Senators who later became president include Democratic-Republicans James Monroe and John Quincy Adams, Democrats Andrew Jackson, Martin Van Buren, Franklin Pierce, James Buchanan, Andrew Johnson, Harry Truman, John Kennedy, and Lyndon Johnson, Whigs William Harrison and John Tyler, and Republicans Benjamin Harrison, Warren Harding, and Richard Nixon.

Since 1972, a total of 50 sitting or former U.S. Senators from across 31 states have run for president a collective 62 times with only one winner – Barack Obama in 2008.

One aspect of Obama’s candidacy in 2008 that garnered him a lot of headlines was his early entrance into the race as a first-term U.S. Senator (with less than two years on the job when he launched his campaign).

The average length of U.S. Senate service for those who have run for president since 1972 has been 2.6 terms, though plenty have sought the White House without a full term under their belt.

Nearly all have been Democrats: Harold Hughes of Iowa (1972), Lloyd Bentsen of Texas (1976), Paul Simon of Illinois (1988), Al Gore of Tennessee (1988), Bob Kerrey of Nebraska (1992), John Edwards of North Carolina (2004), and Obama (2008) and Republican Larry Pressler of South Dakota (1980).

Add to that tally Democratic candidates who ran for president upon leaving the chamber after only one term like Paul Tsongas of Massachusetts (1992), Carol Moseley Braun of Illinois (2004), and Edwards a second time (2008).

Overall, 44 of the 62 presidential candidacies by sitting or former U.S. Senators were made by Democrats, with just 18 by Republicans (including three by Bob Dole and two by John McCain).

Twenty-four of these candidacies were launched by U.S. Senators from the Midwest region compared to 14 from the South, 13 from the Northeast, and 11 from the West.

It will take a few more U.S. Senators to officially enter the race in 2016 to rival the 2008 presidential field, which boasted 10 that cycle: Democrats Obama, Clinton, Edwards, Biden, Mike Gravel of Alaska, Chris Dodd of Connecticut, and Evan Bayh (who formed an exploratory committee) and Republicans McCain, Sam Brownback of Kansas, and Fred Thompson of Tennessee.

Sitting or Former U.S. Senators Who Ran for President, 1972-2012

Cycle
State
Senator
Party
Status
Terms
1972
Indiana
Vance Hartke
Democrat
Sitting
3
1972
Iowa
Harold Hughes
Democrat
Sitting
1
1972
Maine
Ed Muskie
Democrat
Sitting
3
1972
Minnesota
Eugene McCarthy
Democrat
Former
2
1972
Minnesota
Hubert Humphrey
Democrat
Sitting
4
1972
Oklahoma
Fred Harris
Democrat
Sitting
2
1972
South Dakota
George McGovern*
Democrat
Sitting
2
1972
Washington
Scoop Jackson
Democrat
Sitting
4
1976
Idaho
Frank Church
Democrat
Sitting
4
1976
Indiana
Birch Bayh
Democrat
Sitting
2
1976
Minnesota
Eugene McCarthy
Independent
Former
2
1976
Oklahoma
Fred Harris
Democrat
Former
2
1976
Texas
Lloyd Bentsen
Democrat
Sitting
1
1976
Washington
Scoop Jackson
Democrat
Sitting
4
1976
West Virginia
Robert Byrd
Democrat
Sitting
3
1980
Connecticut
Lowell Weicker
Republican
Sitting
2
1980
Kansas
Bob Dole
Republican
Sitting
2
1980
Massachusetts
Ted Kennedy
Democrat
Sitting
4
1980
South Dakota
Larry Pressler
Republican
Sitting
1
1980
Tennessee
Howard Baker
Republican
Sitting
3
1984
California
Alan Cranston
Democrat
Sitting
3
1984
Colorado
Gary Hart
Democrat
Sitting
2
1984
Minnesota
Walter Mondale*
Democrat
Former
3
1984
Ohio
John Glenn
Democrat
Sitting
2
1984
South Carolina
Fritz Hollings
Democrat
Sitting
4
1984
South Dakota
George McGovern
Democrat
Former
3
1988
Colorado
Gary Hart
Democrat
Former
2
1988
Delaware
Joe Biden
Democrat
Sitting
3
1988
Illinois
Paul Simon
Democrat
Sitting
1
1988
Kansas
Bob Dole
Republican
Sitting
4
1988
Nevada
Paul Laxalt
Republican
Former
2
1988
Tennessee
Al Gore
Democrat
Sitting
1
1992
Iowa
Tom Harkin
Democrat
Sitting
2
1992
Massachusetts
Paul Tsongas
Democrat
Former
1
1992
Minnesota
Eugene McCarthy
Democrat
Former
2
1992
Nebraska
Bob Kerrey
Democrat
Sitting
1
1996
Indiana
Dick Lugar
Republican
Sitting
4
1996
Kansas
Bob Dole*
Republican
Sitting
5
1996
Pennsylvania
Arlen Specter
Republican
Sitting
3
1996
Texas
Phil Gramm
Republican
Sitting
2
2000
Arizona
John McCain
Republican
Sitting
3
2000
Indiana
Dan Quayle
Republican
Former
2
2000
New Hampshire
Bob Smith
Republican
Sitting
2
2000
New Jersey
Bill Bradley
Democrat
Former
3
2000
Tennessee
Al Gore*
Democrat
Former
2
2000
Utah
Orrin Hatch
Republican
Sitting
4
2004
Connecticut
Joe Lieberman
Democrat
Sitting
3
2004
Florida
Bob Graham
Democrat
Sitting
3
2004
Illinois
Carol Moseley Braun
Democrat
Former
1
2004
North Carolina
John Edwards
Democrat
Sitting
1
2004
Massachusetts
John Kerry*
Democrat
Sitting
4
2008
Alaska
Mike Gravel
Democrat
Former
2
2008
Arizona
John McCain*
Republican
Sitting
4
2008
Connecticut
Chris Dodd
Democrat
Sitting
5
2008
Delaware
Joe Biden
Democrat
Sitting
6
2008
Illinois
Barack Obama*
Democrat
Sitting
1
2008
Indiana
Evan Bayh
Democrat
Sitting
2
2008
Kansas
Sam Brownback
Republican
Sitting
3
2008
New York
Hillary Clinton
Democrat
Sitting
2
2008
North Carolina
John Edwards
Democrat
Former
1
2008
Tennessee
Fred Thompson
Republican
Former
2
2012
Pennsylvania
Rick Santorum
Republican
Former
2

* Won party’s nomination. Table compiled by Smart Politics.

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