Appointed Senators: Some Stay, Some Go

Alabama’s Luther Strange faces the voters on Aug. 15

Appointed Sen. Luther Strange is campaigning to keep his job in a special election in Alabama. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Appointed Sen. Luther Strange is campaigning to keep his job in a special election in Alabama. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Posted August 9, 2017 at 5:05am

Being appointed to the Senate seems like a politician’s dream come true. Skip the hard work and tedium of campaigning and go directly to the Senate chamber.

But an appointed senator at some point must face the voters if he wants to continue serving. For Alabama Republican Sen. Luther Strange, (who was appointed to the Senate to replace Jeff Sessions), the first encounter with voters will come next week when he will be one of nine Republicans on the Aug. 15 primary ballot.

Strange’s chief rivals are Rep. Mo Brooks and Roy Moore, the former chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court. If no one gets a majority, a runoff will take place on Sept. 26. Given Alabama’s Republican lean, the winner of the GOP nomination will likely be the winner of the Dec. 12 general election.

The last appointed senator to seek election and fail to win was Missouri Democrat Jean Carnahan in 2002. She’d been appointed to the Senate after her husband, Senate candidate and Gov. Mel Carnahan, was killed in a plane crash a few weeks before the 2000 election and was elected posthumously, defeating Republican Sen. John Ashcroft.

Jean Carnahan ran in 2002 and lost to Republican Jim Talent, who served one term before losing to Democrat Claire McCaskill in 2006.

Appointed senators come in many forms, including children of the senator they replace, such as Republicans Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska; and those who are plucked from relative obscurity and become a formidable force, such as George J. Mitchell, who was a federal district judge when the governor of Maine chose him to replace Edmund S. Muskie — who’d left the Senate to become secretary of State. Mitchell ended up as Senate majority leader.

Some serve a short stint and then become the answer to a trivia quiz. Even among Capitol Hill reporters, there may not be many who could name John F. Kennedy’s appointed successor in the Senate after he was elected president in 1960, Al Gore’s Senate replacement after Gore became vice president in 1993, or the man appointed to fill the vacancy created by the death of Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg in 2013.

(The answers: Benjamin A. Smith, Harlan Mathews, and Jeff Chiesa.)