When Serving Together in Congress is a Family Affair

Nathan L. Gonzales May 25, 2016 · 10:48 AM EDT

Democrat Loretta Sanchez is giving up her House seat and the opportunity to continue to serve with her sister in Congress to run for the Senate in California, while the Mooney brothers are hoping to become Congress’s latest pair of siblings.  

The Sanchezes (Loretta of the 46th District and Linda of the 38th) are currently the only siblings serving in Congress. Republican Rep. Alex Mooney was first elected in West Virginia’s 2nd District in 2014 and his brother, Pat, is running in Florida’s 6th District.

Alex Mooney was criticized in his 2014 race because he previously served in the Maryland legislature and was chairman of that state’s Republican Party yet he narrowly won the West Virginia seat , 47-44 percent. National Democrats are targeting the congressman for a takeover this year but their preferred candidate, attorney Cory Simpson , lost the May 10 Democratic primary, 29-26 percent, to former Delegate Mark Hunt .

Pat Mooney is a credible contender in Florida’s 6th District, which is open because GOP Rep. Ron DeSantis is running for the Senate.  

Alex Mooney was able to win a competitive Republican primary in 2014 , in part, because he was vir tually the only candidate who knew how to execute a credible campaign. He had experience running campaigns, albeit in another state, and it didn’t hurt to have a brother who is a political fundraising consultant.  

But Pat Mooney’s path looks more difficult against a stronger field.  

He faces two state legislators (Fred Costello and David Santiago) who currently represent part of the district, former U.S. Rep. Ric Keller (who hasn’t represented the district), and real estate broker G.G. Galloway. But Mooney could exert a financial advantage. He had $337,000 in the bank on March 31, at least three times the amount of any competitor. Mooney’s critics believe Rep. Mooney is opening fundraising doors that would not have otherwise been accessible.

The Florida primary is August 30, and without a runoff provision the winner needs just a plurality of primary voters. In the general election, both West Virginia’s 2nd and Florida’s 6th are rated Safe for Republicans.

The Mooney situation is different than a brother directly succeeding a brother in Congress, which Republican Brian Fitzpatrick is trying to do this year in Pennsylvania’s 8th District, and has been done four times in the last 70 years, according to Eric Ostermeier at the University of Minnesota .  

According to a recent piece in CQ by Tom Curry, the first brothers in the House were Speaker Frederick Muhlenberg and John Peter Gabriel Muhlenberg, who served simultaneously in the 1st Congress, 1789 - 1791, and again in the 3rd Congress, 1793 - 1795.  

In the 1980s, Illinois Republican brothers Philip M. Crane and Daniel B. Crane were simultaneously in the House. Philip won a special election in 1969 to fill the vacancy created by the resignation of a rising GOP star named Donald Rumsfeld, who gave up his House seat to be President Richard Nixon’s director of the Office of Economic Opportunity.  

California’s Burton brothers, Phillip and John, Democrats from neighboring districts in Marin County and San Francisco, served simultaneously in the House from 1974 to 1983.  

More recently, Mario and Lincoln Diaz-Balart served together from Florida for about eight years before Lincoln retired in 2011. Florida state Rep. Pat Rooney Jr., brother of Rep. Tom Rooney, considered running in the open 18th District this year, but ultimately declined. Here’s a longer list of Members of Congress whose siblings or siblings-in-law have also served.  

It’s possible (although not likely) that Loretta Sanchez wins the Senate race and would continue to serve in Washington with her sister, as Democratic Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan did with his brother, Rep. Sander M. Levin, before retiring in 2014. Rep. John Salazar and his younger brother, Sen. Ken Salazar, also served together from Colorado for four years beginning in 2005.