What Happens To The Vice President’s Senate Seat?

Kamala Harris made history by becoming the first woman and the first person of color to be elected vice president.  At some point, she is going to vacate the Senate seat she was elected to in 2016.  And that will put California Gov. Gavin Newsom in the not-so-enviable position of having to choose among some very qualified candidates (and good friends) to name her successor.  (For more on her possible replacement, see this week’s Political Junkie podcast.  Early prediction:  Secretary of State Alex Padilla.)

Senators are often chosen to fill a presidential ticket as the running mate.  But when they win, their party sometimes has difficulty in keeping their seat.  Here’s a look at post-World War II senators who went on to become VP and what happened to their Senate seat:

1948 — Alben Barkley (D-KY) elected with Harry Truman.  Gov. Earle Clements (D) considered resigning and having himself be chosen as Barkley’s successor.  Instead, he picked his good friend, state Highway Commissioner Garrett Withers, as a caretaker senator, who served only until 1950, when Barkley’s term would have been up.  Clements easily defeated Secretary of State George Hatcher in the 1950 Democratic primary and was elected in November over his Republican opponent.  In his 1956 bid for re-election, Clements narrowly lost to Thruston Morton (R).

1952 — Richard Nixon (R-CA) elected with Dwight Eisenhower.  Gov. Earl Warren (R) appointed state Controller Thomas Kuchel to the seat.  Kuchel won the special election in 1954 and was re-elected in 1956 and 1962.  In 1968 he lost the GOP primary to Max Rafferty, who then lost the general election to Alan Cranston (D).

1960 — Lyndon Johnson (D-TX) elected with John Kennedy.  Gov. Price Daniel (D) appointed William Blakley to fill LBJ’s seat.  Once before, Blakley was named to fill a Senate vacancy; that was in 1957, when then-Sen. Daniel resigned to become governor.  But Blakley only served as a caretaker; this time, he ran to keep the seat in the special 1961 election.  But so did 70 other candidates, including John Tower, the Republican who got crushed by Johnson in the 1960 Senate race.  Tower led the field with 31% of the vote; Blakley was second with 18%, narrowly finishing ahead of Congressman Jim Wright.  In what was considered a major surprise, Tower beat Blakley in the runoff by just over 10,000 votes, becoming the first Republican ever sent to the Senate by Texas voters.

1964 — Hubert Humphrey (D-MN) elected with Lyndon Johnson.  Gov. Karl Rolvaag (D) would have preferred to resign and have himself appointed to the seat.  But he and his lieutenant governor, Sandy Keith (D), hated each other’s guts, and the last thing Rolvaag wanted was to see Keith become governor.  Instead, he appointed state Attorney General Walter Mondale to the seat.  Mondale won elections in 1966 and 1972 before being elected vice president himself in 1976.

1976 — Walter Mondale (D-MN) elected with Jimmy Carter.  Gov. Wendell Anderson (D) did what Rolvaag wanted to do; he resigned the governorship and had his successor (in this case, Rudy Perpich) appoint him to Mondale’s seat.  But the voters really soured on that move and punished Anderson in the 1978 election, where he lost overwhelmingly to Rudy Boschwitz (R).

1988 — Dan Quayle (R-IN) elected with George Bush.  Gov. Bob Orr (R) said he spoke to 20 possible candidates before settling on Rep. Dan Coats to succeed Quayle.  Coats went on to win the 1990 special election and the 1992 regular election, but decided not to run again in ’98, when former Gov. Evan Bayh, a very popular Democrat, declared for the Senate.  In 2010, when Bayh unexpectedly decided to retire, Coats came back and won the seat.  He served one term.

1992 — Al Gore (D-TN) elected with Bill Clinton.  Gov. Ned McWherter (D) was torn over the appointment, with Democrats such as Jim Cooper and Bart Gordon, both House members, angling for the seat.  So he decided to choose a longtime pal, Harlan Mathews, who would serve until the 1994 special election.  The Democrats lost the seat that year, as Cooper — his party’s unopposed nominee — was clobbered by actor Fred Thompson (R).

2008 — Joe Biden (D-DE) elected with Barack Obama.  Gov. Ruth Ann Minner (D) picked longtime Biden ally Ted Kaufman as an interim senator, to serve until the 2010 special election.  Biden’s son Beau Biden, the state attorney general, was expected to run but bowed out, possibly fearing he wouldn’t be able to defeat the likely Republican nominee, the very popular Rep. Mike Castle.  New Castle County Executive Chris Coons became the only Democrat who decided to run.  Instead of being a sacrificial lamb candidate, his prospects rose when Castle was stunned in the primary by Tea Party favorite Christine O’Donnell.  Coons easily defeated O’Donnell in the special and was re-elected in 2014 and 2020.

2020 — Kamala Harris (D-CA) elected with Joe Biden.  Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) … (TBD)

 

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