No ex-Minnesota U.S. Representative has ever come back to win a U.S. Senate election in the direct election era
It was reported last week that Republican Jason Lewis is mulling a bid to take on Tina Smith in next year’s Minnesota U.S. Senate election.
Lewis, long known as a commentator and talk show host, represented the state’s 2nd Congressional District for a single term in the 115th Congress before losing his seat by 5.5 points to DFLer Angie Craig last November.
The former congressman indicated he will not make a decision until the autumn, but would likely not have a clear path to the nomination with 2018 GOP nominee Karin Housley also poised to make another run at Smith.
Should Lewis run and win, he also would blaze a new pathway to the senate from the Gopher State. For in the direct election era, no non-sitting U.S. Representative from Minnesota has ever launched a winning U.S. Senate campaign.
Overall, since the first Minnesota U.S. Senate primary in 1912, sitting or former members of the U.S. House have appeared on the primary or general election ballot 20 times.
Just four of these candidacies were successful – all by sitting members of the lower chamber.
The most recent U.S. Representative to win a senate seat in Minnesota was Rod Grams in 1994.
Grams was a freshman member of the house when he took advantage of Dave Durenberger’s ongoing legal issues to run for the senate (Durenberger was denounced by the chamber in 1990 for unethical conduct and pled guilty after leaving office in 1995 for misusing public funds).
Grams defeated Lieutenant Governor Joanell Dyrstad and former Governor Harold Stassen in the primary and rode his party’s national wave to record a 5.0-point win against DFLer Ann Wynia in the general election.
The first sitting U.S. House member to win a senate seat in a direct election was five-term Republican Thomas Schall in 1924.
Schall eked out a 0.5-point primary win against Supreme Court Justice Oscar Hallam with just 35.5 percent of the vote – a victory that still stands as the closest primary win for the office in state history.
Schall unseated Farmer-Laborite Magnus Johnson in the general election by less than a point and would serve two terms in the senate until his death in 1935.
Next was Republican turned Farmer-Laborite lawmaker Ernest Lundeen.
Lundeen served one term in the House from 1917-1919 and subsequently launched three failed attempts in U.S. Senate elections (in the 1922 and 1923 primaries as a Republican and in the 1930 general election as a Farmer-Laborite).
Lundeen also lost GOP primary elections to the House in 1914, 1918, and 1920 and general elections in 1920 (as an independent) and 1926 and 1929 (as a Farmer-Laborite) before winning an at-large seat in 1932 and the 3rd CD race in 1934.
In 1936, Farmer-Laborite Governor Floyd Olson had won his party’s U.S. Senate primary, but died in August of that year. Lundeen, who had easily won renomination to his congressional seat in mid-June, took Olson’s place on the ballot and notched a 24.5-point win against former governor (and sitting U.S. Representative) Theodore Christianson. Lundeen would serve until his death in a plane crash in August 1940.
The other U.S. Representative to be elected to the senate was DFLer Eugene McCarthy in 1958.
McCarthy was in his fifth term when he cruised to a 55.1-point primary victory over former Farmer-Laborite Governor Hjalmar Petersen.
That November, McCarthy knocked two-term Republican Senator Edward Thye out of office by 6.5 points en route to two terms in the chamber in his own right.
Sitting or ex-U.S. Representatives from Minnesota have lost primary or general elections 16 times during the direct election era:
- Charles Lindbergh (1907-1917) placed fourth with 14.7 percent in the 1916 Republican primary won by Frank Kellogg and third as a Farmer-Laborite in the 1923 special primary after the death of Senator Knute Nelson
- Before his 1936 victory, Ernest Lundeen (1917-1919) lost the 1922 Republican primary to Senator Kellogg, placed seventh in the 1923 special Republican primary won by J.A.O. Preus, and lost the 1930 general election to Senator Schall as the Farmer-Laborite nominee
- Republicans Thomas Schall (1915-1925), Sydney Anderson (1911-1925), and Halvor Steenerson (1903-1923) joined Lundeen in defeat in the 1923 special primary placing third, fourth, and eighth respectively
- Former Farmer-Laborite Congressman Knud Wefald (1923-1927) lost his party’s 1930 primary to Ernest Lundeen
- Sitting Democratic U.S. Representative Einar Hoidale (1933-1935) won his party’s primary in 1934 but placed second in the general election – 20.7 points behind Farmer-Laborite Senator Henrik Shipstead
- Earlier that year, Shipstead defeated sitting Farmer-Laborite U.S. Representative Francis Shoemaker (1933-1935) by 47.2 points in his party’s primary
- Republican Congressman Theodore Christianson defeated Senator Schall’s widow in the GOP primary but lost to Lundeen by nearly 25 points in the general election
- Republican Ray Chase (1933-1935) challenged Senator Shipstead in 1940 (running for his fourth term as a Republican) – placing third in the primary
- Farmer-Laborite Henry Arens (1933-1935) placed a distant third in his party’s 1942 primary behind former Senator Elmer Benson and Senator Lundeen’s widow, Norma
- Republican Clark MacGregor (1961-1971) gave up his U.S. House seat when he ran for the senate in 1970, losing an open seat race to former Senator (and Vice-President) Hubert Humphrey
- DFLer Don Fraser (1963-1979) lost the 1978 special primary by 0.6 points to sports mogul Bob Short
Rod Grams’ senate bid 25 years ago is the last by a sitting or former Minnesota U.S. Representative.
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