GOP Would Have to Defy History to Take N.Y. Senate Seat

Posted November 20, 2008 at 11:31am

While Republicans might be dreaming of picking off Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s (D) Senate seat if she resigns to become the next secretary of State, history shows the odds of that happening are not on their side.

If Clinton steps down from the Senate, New York Gov. David Paterson (D) would appoint her successor, and a special election would be held in 2010 for the remaining two years of her term.

But Sen. Charles Schumer’s (D) seat is already up in 2010, and historically, the same party wins both of a state’s Senate seats when they are up for election simultaneously.

Over the past 60 years, there have been 25 times when both Senate seats in one state were up for election. In 22 of those instances (88 percent of the time), one party won both seats.

The most recent example was this year, when Wyoming and Mississippi held elections for both of their Senate seats.

In Mississippi, former Gov. Ronnie Musgrove (D) ran virtually even in polling with appointed-Sen. Roger Wicker (R) for most of the year, but fell well short on Election Day, garnering 45 percent to Wicker’s 55 percent. Sen. Thad Cochran (R) was not targeted and won re-election easily with 62 percent.

And in Wyoming, Sen. Mike Enzi (R) and Sen. John Barrasso (R), who was appointed in 2007 to fill the vacancy created by the death of Sen. Craig Thomas (R-Wyo.), were each elected with over 70 percent of the vote.

Further analysis of the three instances where the two Senate races were won by candidates from different parties show an even tougher road for Empire State Republicans. That’s if they are even able to convince a big-name challenger to run.

In two of the three instances, the split results maintained the partisan status quo before the election.

In Idaho in 1962, Democratic Sen. Frank Church won re-election while appointed Sen. Len Jordan’s (R) victory retained the Republican seat. And in South Carolina in 1966, Republican Sen. Strom Thurmond won re-election, just as Democrat Fritz Hollings kept a Democratic-held seat after defeating an appointed Senator in the primary.

In the final case, in New Hampshire in 1962, Sen. Norris Cotton (R) won re-election, while his party lost the state’s other Senate seat. But the Senator who had been appointed to fill that vacancy and who ran to fill the rest of the unexpired term, Maurice Murphy Jr. (R), lost in the primary, and Thomas McIntyre (D) defeated Rep. Perkins Bass (R) in the general election. (Bass is the father of former Rep. Charlie Bass, who lost re-election in 2006 in New Hampshire’s 2nd district.)

So if Republicans are able to win in New York, it will be the first time in almost five decades that an appointed Senator has lost election in the same cycle that his party won the state’s other Senate seat.