Politics

Strange First Appointed Senator to Lose Primary in Two Decades

Appointed senators have a track record of short tenures

Alabama Sen. Luther Strange is the first appointed Republican senator to lose a primary after taking office since Kansas’ Sheila Frahm in 1996. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Sandwiched between two of the most recognizable senators in Kansas history was a former lieutenant governor who served in the chamber for only five months.

The state’s governor chose Republican Sheila Frahm to take over Sen. Bob Dole’s seat in 1996 when he resigned to run for president. Frahm promptly lost a party primary to her successor, Sen. Sam Brownback, and her time in the national spotlight was over.

Sen. Luther Strange may now be remembered as a similar footnote in the history of Alabama. On Tuesday, Strange became the first appointed senator since Frahm to lose a party primary after taking office. He is only the 25th to do so in history, and just the sixth Republican.

That’s not to say that the majority of appointed senators serve long and productive terms. Most do not end up elected to the office they were appointed to, according to data made available by the Senate. About one-third of appointed senators did not seek election when their term was set to expire, and another third lost their election fights.

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But of the 23 senators appointed since 1996, only one other besides Frahm and Strange lost their election afterward. That was Democrat Jean Carnahan, a Missouri first lady-turned-senator who filled her husband’s spot in the chamber after he was elected posthumously in 2000. She secured her party’s nomination for the seat, but lost in the general election to former Republican Jim Talent.

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The rarity of Strange’s situation in recent years can be partly attributed to an overall decline in the number of appointed senators. After governors were given the power to fill Senate vacancies in 1913, they used the power extensively at first.

Eight senators came into office through appointments in 1918 alone, and even more did so in 1945.

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The only recent year to have a nearly similar count was 2009, when five senators were appointed (two of whom are still in office: Democrats Michael Bennet of Colorado and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York).

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