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When Opposites Attract
Political Junkie
Send your questions about campaigns and elections.

By Ken Rudin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Friday, April 6, 2001

Question: With the recent death of Rep. Norman Sisisky (D-Va.), there are currently three open seats in the House: Sisisky's, Pennsylvania's 9th (vacated by Republican Bud Shuster), and California's 32nd (which became vacant following the death of Democrat Julian Dixon). What is the turnover rate of congressional seats in special elections -- that is, the rate of seats falling to the opposite party? The last one I know of was a Republican winning Bill Richardson's seat in New Mexico.
– Aaron Kleinman, West Hartford, Conn.
Richardson's House seat was the last one to switch parties in a special election. (Collection of Ken Rudin)

Answer: That 1997 election to which you refer -- where Republican Bill Redmond won the seat vacated by Richardson -- is the last time the non-incumbent party won a special congressional election. In the 20 special elections since 1976 in which the seat went to the other party, Republicans won 14. Here's the list:

• Bill Richardson (D-N.M.) appointed U.N. Ambassador. Special election winner: Bill Redmond (R)

• Norm Mineta (D-Calif.) resigned. Special election winner: Tom Campbell (R)

•Glenn English (D-Okla.) resigned. Special election winner: Frank Lucas (R)
• William Natcher (D-Ky.) died. Special election winner: Ron Lewis (R)

• Silvio Conte (R-Mass.) died. Special election winner: John Olver (D)

• Dan Coats (R-Ind.) appointed to Senate. Special election winner: Jill Long (D)
• Claude Pepper (D-Fla.) died. Special election winner: Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R)
• Larkin Smith (R-Miss.) died. Special election winner: Gene Taylor (D)

• Buddy Roemer (D-La.) elected governor. Special election winner: Jim McCrery (R)

• Phil Gramm (D-Tex.) resigned and switched parties. Special election winner: Phil Gramm (R)

• Jon Hinson (R-Miss.) resigned. Special election winner: Wayne Dowdy (D)

• Abner Mikva (D-Ill.) resigned to accept federal judgeship. Special election winner: John Porter (R)
• Dave Treen (R-LA) elected governor. Special election winner: Billy Tauzin (D)

• Leo Ryan (D-Calif.) died. Special election winner: Bill Royer (R)

• Ed Koch (D-N.Y.) elected mayor of New York. Special election winner: Bill Green (R)

• Bob Bergland (D-Minn.) appointed secretary of agriculture. Special election winner: Arlan Stangeland (R)
• Brock Adams (D-Wash.) appointed secretary of transportation. Special election winner: John Cunningham (R)
• Richard Tonry (D-La.) resigned. Special election winner: Bob Livingston (R)

• James Hastings (R-N.Y.) resigned. Special election winner: Stanley Lundine (D)
• Bob Casey (D-Tex.) resigned. Special election winner: Ron Paul (R)

Question: When, if ever, has Congress finished session without a member of the House dying in office?
– Nat Atkins, Mechanicsville, Va.

Answer: I did an exhaustive search on this, and if my files are correct, the last Congress in which a House member did not die in office was in the Fourth Congress (1795-1797). Including resignations and special elections, I count 115 House members who served in that Congress.

Question: : Did Franklin D. Roosevelt ever run for president or vice president and lose?
– Angela Carroll, Raleigh, N.C.
Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected president 12 years after his defeat for V.P. (Collection of Ken Rudin)

Answer: In 1920, FDR - then the assistant secretary of the Navy - was chosen by Democratic presidential nominee James Cox to be his running mate. Cox, the governor of Ohio, chose Roosevelt in part because he needed to win over those Democrats who still supported retiring president Woodrow Wilson, and Roosevelt’s position in the administration was thought to be the way to do it. Cox and Roosevelt lost in a landslide to Republicans Warren Harding and Calvin Coolidge.

The following August, FDR was stricken with polio. In 1928, when New York Gov. Al Smith became the Democratic nominee for president, he asked Roosevelt to run for governor. Smith lost the state, but Roosevelt won, and he used the post as a springboard to his successful presidential candidacy in 1932.

Charleston Chews: As readers of last week's column know, I was utterly fascinated with Milton Grossberg's question, in which he put forth the theory that West Virginia's 1862 secession from Virginia was not legal and thus, since it's not a bona fide state, you remove its five electoral votes and Al Gore should be awarded the presidency on the strength of his 267-266 margin in the electoral college. Made sense to me. Well, as so many of you wrote in (duh) if West Virginia's secession was illegal, then it is still part of Virginia. And thus you would have to put back West Virginia's three electoral votes into Virginia's total - giving Bush those three votes.

As Daniel Fox of Reynoldsburg, Ohio wrote, "You can't subtract all five of West Virginia's electoral votes from Bush's total. If West Virginia weren't a separate state, it wouldn't be entitled to elect senators; thus, just two of its EVs would disappear. But the people residing in those western counties would be still be entitled to representation in the House as citizens of Virginia, right? Thus, if West Virginia were still part of Virginia, Virginia would be entitled to (presumably) three more congressmen than it now has. And Virginia voted for Bush. So, instead of getting 18 total EVs from the two states of Virginia and West Virginia, Bush would have gotten 16 EVs from the state of Virginia including West Virginia. So Bush's 269 would still beat Gore's 267."

Daniel's right, of course. And so are Justin Isaac of Fairfax, Va.; Colin Canavan of Bethesda, Md.; Matt Pincus of Silver Spring, Md.; Peter Foster of Richmond, Va.; Dr. Griff Hathaway of Towson University in Towson, Md.; Bruce Moomaw of Cameron Park, Calif.; Jay Ping of Paris, Ill.; Brian Faughnan of Arlington, Va.; and Kenneth Laws of Lincoln, Neb. -- all of whom knew that the votes from western Virginia/West Virginia had to be accounted for somewhere. A truly heartfelt thanks to all of you, because this column would not be successful were it not for your input.

Got a question? Ask Ken Rudin: junkie@washingtonpost.com

Ken Rudin, political editor at National Public Radio, is also the creator of washingtonpost.com's ScuttleButton contest.

© Copyright 2001 Ken Rudin

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