Senate Challenger Battles Secretary of State Curse
February 24, 2015 · 7:21 AM EST
Missouri Secretary of State Jason Kander, a Democrat, announced his challenge to GOP Sen. Roy Blunt Thursday. But he’ll have to overcome the Republican lean of the Show-Me State and history in order to win.
There are many paths to the Senate, but being a secretary of state is usually not one of them. The losing trend for the state officeholders is nothing new, but 2014 was supposed to be the cycle when at least one of the four current or former secretaries of state broke the Senate curse. It wasn’t.
The trend and results shouldn’t have been a surprise if you read Stuart Rothenberg’s piece from March 2013, “Not All State Offices are Launching Pads,” or his 2003 column, which was skeptical of Superintendent of Education Inez Tenenbaum’s chances in South Carolina.
“Other than state attorney general and state treasurer, most downballot state offices don’t have enough visibility to translate immediately to a high-profile federal race,” Stu wrote.
But they can look like attractive candidates because they are statewide elected officials, often without legislative records.
Last year in Georgia, former Secretary of State Karen Handel finished third in the Republican primary and missed making the runoff. She was the only candidate in the race who had been elected statewide before.
Also of note last cycle:
- In Kentucky, Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, a Democrat, lost to now Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
- Former Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land, a Republican, lost to Rep. Gary Peters, a Democrat, in the race for an open Senate seat in Michigan.
- Secretary of State Natalie Tennant, a Democrat, lost to GOP Rep. Shelley Moore Capito in the West Virginia open-seat race for Senate.
The three women not only lost, but they only received an average of 39 percent of the vote.
With four more losses, the losing trend continues.
“The U.S. Senate Historical Office does not maintain a list of former secretaries of state who have served in the Senate. But according to data compiled from the National Association of Secretaries of State and other sources, CQ Roll Call identified just 10 senators since 1904 who ever held that position,” according to an August 2013 story by Kyle Trygstad.
Of those 10 — seven Democrats and three Republicans — just three were elected to the Senate as a sitting secretary of state. That last happened in 1996, when Democrat Max Cleland was elected in Georgia after more than a decade as the Peach State’s secretary of state.
Blunt served as secretary of state from 1985-1993, but he is one of the other seven secretaries-turn-senators who were either elected governor or to the House before winning a Senate seat. Current senators who once served as secretary of state include Blunt; Joe Manchin III, D-W.Va.; Dean Heller, R-Nev.; and Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio.
The losing trend also doesn’t discriminate by party.
Florida Republican Katherine Harris ran and lost for the Senate six years after her prominent role in her state’s infamous recount after the 2000 presidential election. And Trey Grayson lost a high-profile Republican primary in Kentucky to now-Sen. Rand Paul in 2010.
On the Democratic side, unsuccessful primary candidates have included Connecticut’s Susan Bysiewicz and Maine’s Matt Dunlap in 2012, Ohio’s Jennifer Brunner in 2010 and Rhode Island’s Matt Brown in 2006.
In 2010, Blunt defeated Missouri Democratic Secretary of State Robin Carnahan, North Carolina Secretary of State Elaine Marshall lost a challenge to GOP Sen. Richard M. Burr, who is up for re-election again in 2016, and Oregon Democrat Bill Bradbury lost to Republican Sen. Gordon Smith in 2002.
History doesn’t mean Kander can’t get elected in 2016, but bipartisan failure of previous secretaries of state proves he has plenty of work to do.