Mississippi Senate: Democrats Look to Defy History

by Nathan L. Gonzales July 20, 2008 · 12:05 AM EDT

Former Mississippi Gov. Ronnie Musgrove (D) will have to defy history to win this year’s Senate special election in the Magnolia State.

Over the last 60 years, there have been 23 times when both of a state’s Senate seats were up for election. In 20 of those instances (87 percent of the time), one party won both seats.

This year, two states have elections for both Senate seats: Wyoming and Mississippi. While Wyoming Republican Sen. Mike Enzi and Mississippi Republican Sen. Thad Cochran have known for six years that their seats would be up, the death of Sen. Craig Thomas (R-Wyo.) in 2007 and the unexpected midterm retirement of Trent Lott (R-Miss.) have forced special elections in those states.

Republicans are not at risk of losing either of the Wyoming seats, but Democrats are excited about Musgrove’s prospects against appointed Sen. Roger Wicker (R). Cochran is a heavy favorite to win re-election.

But further analysis of the three instances where the two Senate races were won by candidates from different parties show an even tougher road for Musgrove. In two of the three instances, the split results maintained the partisan status quo before the election.

In Idaho in 1962, Democratic Sen. Frank Church won re-election while appointed Sen. Len Jordan’s (R) victory retained the Republican seat. And in South Carolina in 1966, Republican Sen. Strom Thurmond won re-election, just as Democrat Fritz Hollings held the Democratic seat after defeating the incumbent in the primary.

In the final case, in New Hampshire in 1962, Republican Sen. Norris Cotton won re-election, while his party lost the state’s other Senate seat. But the Senator who had been appointed to fill that vacancy and who ran to fill the rest of the unexpired term, Maurice Murphy Jr. (R), lost in the primary, and Thomas McIntyre (D) defeated Rep. Perkins Bass (R) in the general election. (Bass is the father of former Rep. Charlie Bass, who lost reelection last year in New Hampshire’s 2nd Congressional district.)

So if Musgrove wins this year, it will be the first time in at least six decades that an appointed Senator has lost election in the same cycle that his party won the state’s other Senate seat.