Texas Hold 'Em: Is Hutchison In, or Will She Fold?

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Bill Knowland's decision to leave the Senate and run for governor in 1958 was disastrous for California Republicans. hide caption

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Presidential candidates from the same state running against each other include FDR and Wendell Willkie in 1940. hide caption

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George Brown Campaign Button

Congressman Brown's widow sought but failed to succeed him in 1999. hide caption

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Q: I have seen reports that Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) may challenge Gov. Rick Perry in next year's Republican primary. I can recall governors challenging senators in a primary before (such as Arkansas Gov. Dale Bumpers against Sen. J.W. Fulbright in 1974, or South Dakota Gov. Bill Janklow against Sen. Jim Abdnor in 1986), but not senators challenging governors. — Harvey Hudson, Eden Prairie, Minn.

A: I agree. I cannot think of a single instance in which a sitting senator has gone home to run against an incumbent governor of the same party in a primary. As it is, the list of senators elected governor is small; just four have made the move in the past half-century: Price Daniel (D-TX) in 1956; Pete Wilson (R-CA) in 1990; Dirk Kempthorne (R-ID) in 1998; and Frank Murkowski (R-AK) in 2002. And none challenged an incumbent to do so, in a primary or in the general.

Daniel ran only after Texas Gov. Allan Shivers (D), an ally, decided to retire. Both Wilson and Kempthorne succeeded retiring Republican governors (George Deukmejian and Phil Batt, respectively). Murkowski ran in Alaska to succeed a term-limited Democrat, Tony Knowles. (This year, Sen. Jon Corzine is the odds-on choice to be elected governor of New Jersey. Corzine's strength with Democratic county leaders is what forced acting Gov. Richard Codey, also a Dem, out of the race. But there was no primary.)

And while I know there's probably more — and please write me if you know of them — I can only think of two other senators who ran for governor while still in office since senators were first popularly elected. In 1958, Bill Knowland, the Republican leader of the Senate from California, felt the best way for him to reach the White House was as a governor. The problem: Gov. Goodwin Knight, a fellow Republican (albeit more of a foe than a friend), didn't want to give up his job. A Knowland-Knight primary was averted when Knight gave way and ran for the Senate. As it was, both Republicans lost that year.

The other was Sen. Irving Ives (R-NY). When Gov. Thomas Dewey (R) announced late in 1954 that he wanted to retire, Republicans drafted Ives as their candidate for governor. He wound up losing to Averell Harriman, though he didn't have to give up his Senate seat.

One aside worth mentioning: Once upon a time, the thought of a senator going home to run for governor was seen as a step down. Why get lost in a sleepy state capital, the argument went, when you could be in Washington, where all the action was?

Many giants of the Senate — Hiram Johnson of California, Harry Byrd of Virginia, Richard Russell of Georgia, to name just a few — started off as governor. But lately, with partisan wrangling on Capitol Hill a constant and often tedious affair, the appeal of staying in Washington has lessened for some.

Pete Wilson, who served eight years in the Senate, said there was nothing more invigorating and stimulating than being governor. Dirk Kempthorne, who could have held onto his Idaho Senate seat forever, was anxious to go back home. A former mayor of Boise, he said when he left Washington that the power was shifting to the states, where the action was, and unlike D.C., where he was one of 100, he was now running the show.

Now that we've had our fun with political trivia, the bigger question is whether Hutchison will actually give up her Senate seat to challenge Perry. A source close to Hutchison tells me that anyone who says they know what she will do is lying, that a decision has still not been reached. But by all accounts, it looks like she's running.

That surprises me. Why would Hutchison give up a safe Senate seat to risk splitting the party back home? What did Perry do to invite a primary battle? Some Hutchison partisans have said that Perry has fallen down on the job and his numbers are declining, though I haven't seen much evidence.

And where is the White House in all of this? I don't know of any bad blood between President Bush and Rick Perry, who was W's hand-picked choice for lieutenant governor in his second term. So why is the administration silent? When conservative Rep. Pat Toomey challenged Sen. Arlen Specter in last year's Pennsylvania GOP primary, the White House didn't hesitate for a second — they embraced Specter, who clearly had a better chance of winning statewide, despite being closer ideologically to Toomey. But nary a word from Karl Rove about the Hutchison-Perry family feud.

Some have attributed Hutchison's decision to her public pledge to serve no more than two full terms in the Senate. I've also read that she is "tired" of commuting between Washington and Texas. That's all well and good, but do you make such a dramatic move because you're tired? Certainly, if Hutchison vacated her Senate seat, there would be a mad scramble among many Texas Republicans — state officeholders, members of Congress — to take her place.

The Perry people are prepared; they've circulated a video of Hutchison appearing with Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) at a Washington ceremony from last month in which the two briefly embrace and Clinton calls Hutchison "my partner on so many important fronts." Perry has defended the tactic; Hutchison called it a "political cheap shot."

Stay tuned.

Q: I was curious about the item in your March 22 column involving running mates becoming rivals, in particular the Humphrey-Muskie situation in 1972. Although I was young, it seems to me that Ed Muskie was all but finished when Hubert Humphrey got in the race, and as I recall he did so reluctantly. Is my recollection of Humphrey's announcement correct? — Steve Sherburne, Portland, Ore.

A: Unfortunately, no. I'm guessing that because Humphrey skipped the New Hampshire primary — which Muskie won but by less of a margin than expected — you thought he had yet to get in the race.

Truth be told, while Muskie was the Democratic frontrunner for president heading into 1972, Humphrey was among those who were also running. Muskie formally announced his candidacy on Jan. 4, 1972. Humphrey got in six days later. As the designated "frontrunner," Muskie felt obliged to run in all the primaries, especially the first two: New Hampshire and Florida. Humphrey focused on Florida and stayed out of New Hampshire, figuring Muskie, from Maine, was a de facto favorite son there.

The New Hampshire results on March 7 gave Muskie just 48 percent of the vote — less than the plus-50 percent he was confident of getting — with long shot George McGovern finishing second with 38 percent. A week later, Humphrey ran second to George Wallace in Florida. Humphrey finished nowhere close to Wallace, but Muskie did even worse — he ended up in fourth place. Three weeks later, Humphrey finished third in Wisconsin. Muskie was fourth. This is when the doubts about Muskie's viability really took hold. And in late April, when Humphrey won the Pennsylvania primary, and Muskie finished in a tie for third, he knew his chances had evaporated; he ended his campaign two days later.

Q: My students want to know if candidates from the same state have ever faced each other in the presidential general election. — Andrew Conneen, Adlai E. Stevenson High School, Lincolnshire, Ill.

A: Absolutely, with perhaps the most famous duo coming from your home state: Abraham Lincoln (R) vs. Stephen Douglas (D) in 1860.

Other same-state pairings include New York's Franklin D. Roosevelt (D) and Thomas Dewey (R) in 1944; Ohio's Warren Harding (R) and James Cox (D) in 1920; and New York's Theodore Roosevelt (R) and Alton Parker (D) in 1904. In addition, Indiana-born Wendell Willkie (R) was living in New York when he challenged FDR in 1940.

What Can Brown Do For You?: I really blew it with my answer in the March 22 column about the last congressional widow who tried but failed to succeed her husband in the House. I stated that the last was Sheila Smith of Mississippi, who was pushed out of her 1989 attempt to replace her late husband, GOP Rep. Larkin Smith. Jerry Skurnik of New York, Trevor Wells, and John Gizzi, the political editor for HUMAN EVENTS in Washington, D.C., all knew that the last widow to run and lose was Marta Brown, wife of the late Rep. George Brown (D-CA), who narrowly lost to state Sen. Joe Baca in the 1999 special Democratic primary in California's 42nd District. I completely forgot about that one. Gizzi also reminded us of another instance, back in 1968, when Mrs. Joe Pool, wife of the late Texas Democratic congressman and chairman of the House Committee on Un-American Activities, lost to Republican Jim Collins.

And although he wasn't a congressional widower, Reuben Spellman attempted to win the seat of his wife, Rep. Gladys Spellman (D-MD), who suffered a heart attack and remained in a semiconscious state for months, until her seat was declared vacant in 1981. Spellman lost to Steny Hoyer in a special Democratic primary. It was the first and only time in history that a seat was declared vacant even though the House member was not deceased.

Brad Peaseley took issue with a question in the March 9 column about former first lady Barbara Bush being a "descendant" of President Franklin Pierce. Peaseley writes, "One is not a descendant of one's cousin, so Babs is not descended from Frank. She's only related to him."

By the way, that March 9 column was a special issue dedicated to campaign buttons, and it included a button puzzle reminiscent of the "ScuttleButton" contest I used to do on the Washington Post Web site. At the end of the column, I thanked the readers for "tolerating this button intermission." That led Don Mac Gregor of Riverwoods, Ill., to write, "I want more intermissions! More ScuttleButton puzzles, please!" Perhaps they will return in an upcoming column.

This Day in Campaign History: John Mitchell, the former attorney general under President Richard Nixon, becomes campaign manager-director of the Committee for the Re-Election of the President (April 13, 1972).

Got a question? Ask Ken Rudin: politicaljunkie@npr.org.

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