For the world’s most exclusive club, the Senate sure has a lot of losers.
Almost a dozen Senators lost their first races for the Senate only to come back later in their careers and win. This cycle, a trio of Republicans are trying to join the club.
“Losing was probably the best thing that ever happened to me,” Sen. Bob Corker told Roll Call. “I make a much better Senator today than I ever possibly could have been.”
The Tennessee Republican first ran for the Senate in 1994 but lost to Bill Frist in the GOP primary. A dozen years later when the seat opened up again, Corker ran and won. Between Senate runs, Corker gained experience in business as well as state and local government, including four years as the mayor of Chattanooga.
“All the experience made me more mature and allowed me to serve at a much higher level,” Corker added.
The stories and timelines vary from candidate to candidate and state to state, but a Senate loss can result in valuable name recognition and invaluable campaign experience.
In Ohio, for example, losing your first Senate race is practically a rule. The current Senators each won their first time around, but the three previous Senators were one-time losers.
Sen. John Thune (R) had already been elected statewide to South Dakota’s at-large seat when he gave up his House seat to challenge Sen. Tim Johnson (D) in 2002. Thune lost that race by 524 votes but came back two years later to knock off Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D) in another extremely competitive and close race.
This cycle, former Rep. Heather Wilson (R-N.M.) is hoping to join Thune and Corker. She ran for Senate in 2008 but lost in the primary to Rep. Steve Pearce.
“My children had never seen me lose anything,” said Wilson, who consistently won re-election in a very competitive district in Albuquerque. “I wanted to be a role model to them, show them how to work hard, fight hard and be gracious in defeat.”
Wilson endorsed Pearce after the primary and co-hosted several fundraisers for him. Now she believes she’s laid a solid foundation to win the state’s other Senate seat next year.
“Politics is about people and relationships, and we’re building on top of that,” Wilson told Roll Call recently. She cautioned, however, that “every campaign is different” and that it would be a mistake to rerun the last race, even though she lost by only 2 points.
The Senate losers club shrunk recently when John Ensign resigned his Nevada seat.