Thanks to state Sen. Jeff Jackson bowing out of North Carolina’s Democratic primary, the 2022 field for U.S. Senate is coming into focus. We now have a likely nominee (Cheri Beasley) facing one of three prominent Republican candidates: Pat McCrory, Ted Budd or Mark Walker.
Each seeks to replace three-term U.S. Sen. Richard Burr, who’s retiring this year. Before winning the seat, Burr served in the U.S. House of Representatives. Budd is a sitting House member, Walker a former member.
You might think the House represents a common path to a Senate seat in North Carolina. I did, too, until I examined the electoral history. It turns out since the 1913 passage of the 17th Amendment, which made senators elected by voters rather than state legislatures, only one person whose highest previous office was U.S. House has ever won a Senate seat. That was Richard Burr in 2004.
Three other North Carolinians winning elections for Senate had previously been congressmen, too: Furnifold Simmons (a senator from 1901 to 1931), Clyde Hoey (1945-1954) and Sam Ervin (1954-1974). But each served in statewide office before their Senate victories: Simmons in the U.S. Senate by legislative election, Hoey as North Carolina’s governor and Ervin as a justice on the state supreme court. There were also two former congressman, William Umstead (1946-1948) and Jim Broyhill (1986), who got appointed to the nation’s upper chamber but never won a Senate election.
Speaking of Ervin, he represents the path that Beasley, a former chief justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court, is now attempting to tread. As for former Gov. Pat McCrory, if he wins he’ll join four other governors in accomplishing such a feat: Hoey, Melville Broughton (1948-1949), Kerr Scott (1954-1958) and Terry Sanford (1986-1993).
Out of the 20 folks who’ve been popularly elected to the Senate from North Carolina, most took a political path other than those represented by this year’s major candidates. Like Simmons, Lee Overman (1903-1930) had previously served in the U.S. Senate via legislative election. For Willis Smith (1950-1953), Kay Hagan (2009-2015) and Thom Tillis (2014-present), their highest prior office was state legislator.
Robert Morgan (1975-1981) was the state’s attorney general. Jesse Helms (1973-2003) was a former Raleigh city councilman. Robert Reynolds (1932-1945) had been a district attorney. And six North Carolina members — Josiah Bailey (1931-1946), Everett Jordan (1958-1973), John East (1981-1986),...
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