Why Would Anyone Want to be a Senator?

Two popular Republican governors have declined a chance to join the World's Greatest Deliberative Body.

One of the few non-Trumpy Republicans left in high office, Maryland Governor Larry Hogan, has re-affirmed that he has no desire to run for the United States Senate.

AP:

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan announced Tuesday that he will not run for the U.S. Senate, rebuffing an aggressive recruitment push from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and other Republicans who saw the term-limited governor as the GOP’s best chance to win in the deep-blue state.

Hogan announced his decision during an unrelated afternoon press conference in the state Capitol, explaining that he could not finish his term as governor effectively and run for the Senate at the same time.

“I sincerely appreciate all the people who have been encouraging me to consider it,” Hogan told reporters. “A number of people have said that they thought I could make a difference in the Senate and be a voice of common sense and moderation. I was certainly humbled by that. And it gave me and my family reasons to consider it. But as I have repeatedly said, I don’t aspire to be a United States senator.”

The governor’s decision, while not totally unexpected, marks a second significant recruiting setback in the Republican Party’s broader fight to seize the Senate majority. In November, New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu, another popular, moderate Republican, stunned McConnell’s team by announcing he would seek reelection as governor instead of launching a widely expected Senate bid.

Presumably, part of this is a calculation that it would be a hard race. But, honestly, I can’t imagine why anyone who has been or could be a state governor would want to become a US Senator.

In my home state of Virginia, it has been a common path. Indeed, both of our current Senators, Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, were governors first. We are the only remaining state with the antiquated rule that governors may only serve one term in a row, so those wishing to remain in politics pretty much have to become a Senator or President. (Terry McAuliffe ran unsuccessfully last year for a second term after four years out of office. Mills Godwin, who served 1966-1970 and 1974-1978, is the only one to actually manage that feat since the rule was established with the 1851 constitution.)

Once upon a time, that seemed like a perfectly reasonable path. The Senate is a prestigious office and is a good perch from which to add national security experience to the executive experience a governor has in order to prepare for a future Presidential bid. But for at least the last dozen years, and arguably the last twenty, it has been the place where legislation goes to die. It seems like a huge step down to go from running a state to being one of a hundred do-nothings.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Sleeping Dog says:

    The problem for R’s in recruiting good candidates that are interested in governing, such as Hogan, Sununu or Charlie Baker, is that R’s have no platform beyond obstruction. Even when they controlled both the legislative and executive branches the only plan was tax cuts and secure the parties control over the courts. Then look at the clowns that you would caucus with.

    For a Dem governor it is more attractive, if only because the party as goals for governing.

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  2. mattbernius says:

    But for at least the last dozen years, and arguably the last twenty, [The Senate is] the place where legislation goes to die.

    It’s honestly heartbreaking that everyone realizes this and no one is willing to do anything to change it in the name of “tradition” and “bipartisanship.” Its now wonder that it appears like its slowly becoming seen as a “prestige” position for political dilettantes (like ex sports figures).

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  3. Mikey says:

    @mattbernius:

    Its now wonder that it appears like its slowly becoming seen as a “prestige” position for political dilettantes (like ex sports figures).

    It’s like we ordered the House of Lords from Wish.com.

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  4. Kylopod says:

    We are the only remaining state with the antiquated rule that governors may only serve one term in a row, so those wishing to remain in politics pretty much have to become a Senator or President.

    But many states have a two-term limit for governors, so it still makes sense why many have gone on to the Senate, which has no term limits.

    Presumably, part of this is a calculation that it would be a hard race.

    Yes–and even if he were to win, he’d face his first reelection in 2028, a presidential year in which the state would almost certainly go to the Dem nominee by a massive margin, meaning he’d need to rely on ticket-splitting unlike anything we’ve seen in decades.

    The death of ticket-splitting is part of the issue, I believe. In the past, Senators didn’t have to worry as much about the national party and were given a lot more room for individuality by voters in the state. There is still some of that flexibility remaining with governors today, but it rarely translates to Senate races. Every now and then a candidate from the non-dominant party in a state wins a Senate election in a fluke (Scott Brown in 2010, Doug Jones in 2017), but they’re rarely able to keep it in the next cycle. And there’s a long record of failure of former and even sitting governors losing Senate elections in their state due to the increased nationalization (the most recent example is Steve Bullock in 2020).

    Of course, it’s also worth noting that Hogan has indicated he has his eyes set on running for the 2024 presidential nomination, and if so, he may be more delusional than we realize. As hard a time as he’d likely have running for the Senate in MD, his chances are way higher there than they would be taking on the Trump party (and possibly Trump himself) for president.

    Speaking of which, I just have to end this comment quoting Al Franken’s take in 1996 when Arlen Specter ran for the GOP nomination:

    I’ve been giving this a lot of thought. As I see it, there are two possible scenarios that could lead to an Arlen Convention. The first is a plane crash. A 747 carrying Dole, Gramm, Buchanan, and Alexander crashes…on top of Newt Gingrich and Colin Powell.

    The second is a bus crash. It plays out kind of the same way.

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  5. Moosebreath says:

    @mattbernius:

    “Its now wonder that it appears like its slowly becoming seen as a “prestige” position for political dilettantes (like ex sports figures).”

    Which certainly is shown by how Pennsylvania airwaves are currently being dominated by 2 men who have never run for office in their lives running for the Republican nomination for Senate, a hedge fund manager who hasn’t lived in the state in decades and a cable talking head on medical issues who never lived in the state except in his in-laws’ house.

    On the other hand, the Democrats running for the same Senate seat are the Lt. Governor, a Congressman and a State Senator.

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  6. Jen says:

    @Mikey:

    It’s like we ordered the House of Lords from Wish.com.

    This might end up being the truest thing I read today.

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  7. Michael Cain says:

    The Senate is a prestigious office and is a good perch from which to add national security experience to the executive experience a governor has in order to prepare for a future Presidential bid.

    Name a presidential or vice-presidential nominee in the last century who was previously a governor and a US senator. It’s not a very good combination from which to try for the big brass ring.

  8. Neil Hudelson says:

    @Mikey:

    You mind if I shamelessly steal that line?

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  9. Mikey says:

    @Neil Hudelson: It’s not stealing if you ask! 😉

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  10. Michael Cain says:

    @Sleeping Dog:

    The problem for R’s in recruiting good candidates that are interested in governing, such as Hogan, Sununu or Charlie Baker, is that R’s have no platform beyond obstruction.

    Not obstruction, deconstruction. Which is a governing philosophy of sorts. The Republicans nationally have a two-plank platform: cut progressive tax rates and roll up the regulatory state. They work the first plank whenever they get a marginal trifecta using reconciliation and daring the Democrats to let the tax cuts expire. They work the second plank by loading up the courts and the regulatory agencies, for which the Senate is crucial because of “advise and consent.”

    Feb. 28 is oral arguments for West Virginia v. EPA and three other consolidated cases. The optimistic take — my version of optimistic — is that they’ll tell the EPA that they can’t dictate to the electric power industry without more direct authorization from Congress. The pessimistic take is they’ll overturn a variety of precedents and greatly restrict the EPA and indirectly a bunch of other regulatory agencies. This case is the reason the Republicans put Gorsuch on the court.

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  11. James Joyner says:

    @Michael Cain:

    Name a presidential or vice-presidential nominee in the last century who was previously a governor and a US senator. It’s not a very good combination from which to try for the big brass ring.

    We’re dealing with a very small n and constantly-changing conditions. For the longest time, governors—who lacked the voting record on contentious national issues as Senators—were all the rage (Carter, Reagan, Clinton, Bush 43) but none has gained serious traction since. Until Barack Obama, we hadn’t elected a sitting Senator President since John Kennedy. Obama was followed by another former Senator (Hillary) winning the popular vote but losing the Electoral vote to a never-held-office boob. And a former Senator (and VP) won the following contest.

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  12. Michael Reynolds says:

    The job is not to actually do anything, not to actually influence events, the job is just to hold a title and be ‘part of’. I was offered that same deal from a producer (for more than Senators earn) and refused on the grounds that it was beneath my dignity to occupy a meaningless position. I believe one is defined by what one does in the world, not by one’s title or position.

    But hey, different strokes. If someone wants to spend half their time begging money from car dealers and real estate developers in order to be called, ‘Senator so and so,’ well, it’s an odd sort of identity politics, but it’s a free-ish country. But the the question ‘what do you do?’ cannot be answered by saying, ‘I’m a Senator.’

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  13. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    They get paid a good salary for doing almost nothing, and it obviously opens the door to other riches.
    When a complete moron like Ron Johnson can double his net worth during his time in office, why wouldn’t you?
    When Joe Manchin can direct Fossil Fuels Legislation specifically to enrich himself, why wouldn’t you?

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  14. MarkedMan says:

    @Daryl and his brother Darryl:

    They get paid a good salary for doing almost nothing,

    While true for today’s Repubs, it’s most certainly not true for Dems. Obamacare alone took massive efforts from Congress, especially the staff work. If a Senator wants to have an impact, they can.

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  15. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    This may be another case of populations wanting to want “a voice of common sense and moderation” but not really wanting to have it. Either way, good catch by both guvs on realizing that Mitch was really inviting them to “vote the way I tell you to and STFU otherwise.”

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