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The Senior Prom
Political Junkie
Send your questions about campaigns and elections.

By Ken Rudin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Friday, July 27, 2001

Question: Who is the most senior member of Congress, Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.) or Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.)? Some sources list Dingell as more senior because he was elected in a special election in 1955, while Strom was listed as arriving in 1956. In addition, who are the most senior female and African-American members of Congress?
– Mike Hatchett, Highland Springs, Va.

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Dingell is the senior member of Congress. (Collection of Ken Rudin)

Answer: Though Thurmond was elected first - he won his bid for the Senate on a write-in campaign Nov. 2, 1954, while Dingell didn't win his House seat until Dec. 13, 1955 - Dingell has the most continuous seniority.

The background: On Sept. 1, 1954, Sen. Burnet Maybank (D-S.C.) died. Gov. James Byrnes (D) then called for a special primary, but the Democratic state committee - at odds with Byrnes over his support for Eisenhower in the 1952 presidential election - overruled him and designated state Sen. Edgar Brown as its nominee. Former Gov. Thurmond, a Byrnes ally, was outraged at the action and decided to run as a write-in candidate. He said that if he won he would resign in 1956 so Democrats could nominate a candidate in a regular primary. Well, Thurmond did win (the only time in history a Senate race was won on a write-in) and, as promised, resigned his seat in '56, then won the primary and election that year. Thurmond's seniority thus is counted not from 1954 but from Nov. 7, 1956, making Dingell the most senior member of Congress.

The senior female member of Congress is Maryland Democrat Barbara Mikulski, who was elected to the House in 1976 and came to the Senate 10 years later. The senior female member of the House is Rep. Marge Roukema (R-N.J.), first elected in 1980. The senior black member is Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), who trails only Dingell in total House seniority. He was first elected in 1964.

Question: Now that Sen. Jim Jeffords (I-Vt.) is no longer a Republican, are the two Louisiana Senate seats (currently held by Democrats John Breaux and Mary Landrieu) the only two seats that have remained in the same party since the beginning of the 20th century? I assume that both of these seats were held by Republicans during Reconstruction, but I believe they have been in Democratic hands since the days before the popular election of senators (although some say that the seat held by Landrieu would have fallen to Republican Woody Jenkins in 1996 had there been no funny business on Election Day).
– Jorge E. Souss, Guaynabo, Puerto Rico

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No GOP senators since Reconstruction. (Collection of Ken Rudin)

Answer: Louisiana is the only state that has had one-party control of both Senate seats this century. Breaux (first elected in 1986) and Landrieu (who arrived 10 years later) hold seats that have not been occupied by Republicans since Reconstruction. But there are three other Senate seats that have been held by just one party since that time. The three seats, all in the South, are currently held by: Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.), who first won in 1998; Max Cleland (D-Ga.), who first won in 1996; and Fritz Hollings (D-S.C.), who first won in 1966.

Speaking of Vermont, until Patrick Leahy (D) won in 1974, no Democrat had ever held a Senate seat in the state. And with Jeffords' switch, the Republican Party is now without a Vermont Senate seat for the first time in history.

Question: There's a strong possibility that Rep. John E. Sununu might run against Sen. Bob Smith in next year's Republican Senate primary in New Hampshire. I can't think of a single instance in this century where an elected incumbent senator has been defeated by a House member in his own party's primary. Has it ever happened?
– David K., Washington, D.C.

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It took two buttons to oust Sen. Jordan (D-N.C.) in the '72 primary. (Collection of Ken Rudin)

Answer: By "this century" I assume you mean the 20th century. In any event, it has happened several times. Probably the most notable was the 1950 Democratic primary in Florida, when Rep. George Smathers ousted Sen. Claude Pepper. This was the legendary campaign in which the Smathers folks affixed the "Red Pepper" moniker to the senator and beat him handily. The most recent occurrence came in 1972, when Rep. Nick Galifianakis toppled Sen. B. Everett Jordan in the North Carolina Democratic primary.

It has happened twice since then in cases where the incumbent senator was an appointee. In 1996, Sheila Frahm, who was named to fill the seat vacated by presidential candidate Bob Dole, lost to Rep. Sam Brownback in the Kansas GOP primary. In 1978, Paul Hatfield, appointed to the seat of the late Sen. Lee Metcalf (D), lost the Montana Democratic primary to Rep. Max Baucus. Other instances in the past in which elected senators were ousted in the primary by House members include:

* The 1962 New Hampshire Republican primary, where appointed Sen. Maurice Murphy lost to Rep. Perkins Bass;

* The 1952 Tennessee Democratic primary, where Rep. Albert Gore Sr. defeated Sen. Kenneth McKellar;

* The 1950 Oklahoma Democratic primary, in which Rep. Mike Monroney beat Sen. Elmer Thomas, and;

* The 1950 South Dakota GOP primary, where Rep. Francis Case bested Sen. Chan Gurney.

Question: There are never any women quoted or, frankly, mentioned in your column -- unless they're interns having sex. Also, it seems that all the politics writers, talented though they are, are men. Is Washington really THAT male dominated, or is it just The Post?
– Ariana Brannigan Kelly, New York, N.Y.

Answer: My column is comprised of questions from readers around the world. In any vehicle about campaign history and trivia, it should not be surprising that most of the talk is about men - I suspect due less to chauvinism and more because most campaigns in history have involved men. Look at the numbers of women in the current Congress - 13 out of 100 senators and 60 of 434 House members. Record numbers, but hardly one that represents the population. So it's logical that most questions are about male politicians.

However, women are mentioned regularly in my column. To cite just a few in recent months, the May 18 column took a look at every woman governor in history. The March 2 column discussed African-American women who ran for president. Throughout the 1999-2000 cycle there were endless columns on prospective female vice-presidential hopefuls. And many of the top political reporters in Washington are women. At National Public Radio, where I am the political editor, its national political correspondent is Mara Liasson, who previously covered Congress and the Clinton White House.

But I share your revulsion of the coverage of the current congressman-having-sex-with-interns story. Unlike the print and broadcast media, I have no desire nor see any point to list the names of all the women allegedly involved with Rep. Gary Condit (D-Calif.). But the charge of obstruction of justice in the Chandra Levy investigation is a legitimate story, as is a look at Condit's chances for re-election in 2002 and Democratic efforts in California to protect his district during the reapportionment process.

POSTSCRIPT: Back to the Condit story, the July 13 column featured a claim that the media is deliberately holding back reporting the party affiliation of the California Democrat. That brought a huge response from readers. Rick Reichman of Santa Fe, N.M. writes, "WHAT LIBERAL PRESS? This is another myth the right keeps getting away with because they do control the media. Does anyone in the country not know who Gary Condit is and what party he belongs to? Besides, most of the stories about him involve an ongoing criminal investigation, not a political story. I also don't see many of these stories mentioning the fact that Condit was one of the Democrats leading the charge against Clinton or that he is pretty much a conservative Democrat, certainly nowhere close to a liberal."

Coming from the other direction is Barry Prager of San Francisco, one of many readers who complained about Democrats who have been silent about Condit while showing no similar reticence about Republicans. He writes that Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) "is as quiet as a church mouse concerning Democrat Condit. She was also a strong defender of Democrat Bill Clinton. But when it comes to a Republican who is involved in a sexual episode, real or imagined, she will shout until blue in the face, using the politics of sex to her political advantage." Christopher Plummer of Levittown, Pa., asks, "Why have the feminists been quiet throughout the Levy investigation? They marched against Bob Packwood and Clarence Thomas, pounding into our heads that these guys were unfit for public office. Condit (Democrat) is? How come?"

As for the claim that the media is hiding Condit's Democratic label, Danette Magee of Harrisburg, Pa., said that she and her husband "both made the same observation about the media's 'neglect' to mention Condit's party affiliation, and neither of us got it from Rush Limbaugh. The reality is that the media is downplaying the party affiliation of Condit, and it is noticeable to a lot of people. Personally, I don't think that it matters whether it's a Republican or Democrat who is engaged in this kind of behavior. It's unacceptable, especially for our elected officials. But I can guarantee you that if this would have involved a Republican member of Congress, that 'R' would be front and center."

In the wake of all of this, perhaps the most unintentionally funny thing I've seen came in the following note that appeared in the July 19 issue of Congressional Quarterly's Daily Monitor: "A story in Wednesday's CQ Daily Monitor misidentified the political affiliation of Rep. Gary A. Condit, D-Calif." I guess they don't watch cable at Congressional Quarterly.

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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