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For Some in Senate, Losing Once Is Way to Win

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Sen. Bob Corker 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.

The Republican lost his 1998 challenge to Sen. Harry Reid (D) by 428 votes but came back two years later to win the open seat created by retiring Sen. Richard Bryan (D). Reid himself overcame an initial Senate loss, a 1974 defeat at the hands of Sen. Paul Laxalt (R), with his own election in 1986.

Like Thune, Ensign’s election in 2000 meant he served with the man who defeated him.

This cycle in Montana, Rep. Denny Rehberg (R) is giving up his seat to challenge Sen. Jon Tester (D). If Rehberg wins, he’ll serve with Sen. Max Baucus, the Democrat who defeated him in 1996. 

It would be 16 years from Senate defeat to victory for Rehberg, but an extended time between bids wouldn’t be unprecedented, particularly since he has spent 10 years in the House.

In Maryland, Barbara Mikulski (D), then a Baltimore city councilwoman, took 43 percent in her failed quest to unseat Sen. Charles Mathias (R) in 1974. A dozen years later, when Mathias retired, Mikulski won his open seat after serving a decade in the House.

Mark Warner (D) lost his 1996 challenge to Sen. John Warner (R-Va.), a race that saw bumper stickers reading “Mark, not John.” But Mark Warner went on to become a successful businessman and served a term as the commonwealth’s governor. When John Warner retired in 2008, Mark Warner easily won the seat. 

For other Senators, the turnaround was shorter, sometimes much shorter. 

After narrowly losing the GOP primary in Pennsylvania to Sen. Arlen Specter in 2004, Pat Toomey maintained his profile as a national conservative leader and was elected six years later. (Specter also lost his first Senate bid before he was elected.) Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) had eight years between his initial loss in the 1996 Republican Senate primary and his election in 2004. 

In 1974, Dick Lugar (R) lost his challenge to Sen. Birch Bayh (D) in Indiana, but he defeated the state’s other Senator, Vance Hartke (D), just two years later. 

Like Lugar, Jeanne Shaheen (D) benefited in part from a more favorable political environment the second time around. Then governor, Shaheen lost her first Senate race in New Hampshire to John Sununu (R) in 2002. But six years later, she came back to defeat him. She’s the only sitting Senator to avenge her initial loss against the same candidate. 

Don Stenberg is hoping to rack up a similar achievement, but the Nebraska Republican is also entering uncharted waters.  

This is Stenberg’s fourth race for the Senate. He lost to Chuck Hagel in the Republican primary in 1996. He lost to then-Gov. Ben Nelson (D) in the closest race in Nebraska history in 2000. And he ran again in 2006 and lost in the primary, again. 

Stenberg has been elected statewide four times, including three terms as attorney general and his election as state treasurer last fall. This cycle he faces state Attorney General Jon Bruning and others in the GOP primary for the right to face Nelson again.

Nelson was a one-time loser (a 1996 loss to Hagel) before he was elected in 2000. 

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