House Serves as Launchpad for Lawmakers Coveting Senate Seats

  • House provides experience, fundraising boost for Senate bids
  • Almost half of Senate is composed of former House members

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A group of House members, eager to follow a well-worn path, have set their sights on the chamber across the Capitol, betting that their fundraising and campaigning prowess will boost their chances to win a Senate seat next year.

Reps. Val Demings (D-Fla.), Tim Ryan (D-Ohio), Mo Brooks (R-Ala.), Vicky Hartzler (R-Mo.), and Ted Budd (R-N.C.) launched Senate campaigns earlier this year while Reps. Conor Lamb (D-Pa.), Ann Wagner (R-Mo.), Billy Long (R-Mo.), and Jason Smith (R-Mo.) are also considering Senate bids.

They’ll follow a long tradition of representatives using the House as a launchpad for the Senate, where individual members often wield more influence and garner greater public attention than in the more populous other body.

While their experience may be assets in running for statewide office, these lawmakers also have compiled voting records that can become fodder for opponents’ attacks. They also face challenges in converting their district-wide appeal to statewide support and in a political climate where running as a Washington insider isn’t always an advantage.

“You’re representing a very different sort of concentration of people who may be much more—depending on the district—they may just be much more homogeneous in their views,” Democratic strategist Delacey Skinner said in a phone interview. “It’s why you tend to see senators who are more moderate than House members.”

“Republican voters tend to be more interested in an outsider,” Skinner said. “Democratic voters a lot of the time tend to be more interested in people who have experience in government.”

Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-Mo.)
(Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-Mo.) said her experience in the House is an advantage in a Senate bid.

Republican Hartzler sees her experience as a strong selling point.

“It does matter that I’ve been here for 11 years and have a track record of getting things done,” she said in an interview.

The current Senate includes 47 former House members, a similar number to the last several Congresses but which has dwindled since 2015. At least one senator in 37 states previously served in the House.

Five House members sought Senate seats in 2020 but just two, Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.) and Roger Marshall (R-Kan.), won their contests.

Well-Oiled Campaigns

One of the members’ biggest advantages is that they have well-oiled campaigning and outreach, more so than most of their opponents who haven’t held political office.

“It’s not just about fundraising,” Republican strategist Bob Honold said in a phone interview. “It’s relationships with important people in the community, whether they are the head of a union, or they’re the head of a business, or they’re head of a business association, or they’re a donor.”

Their experience running district-wide campaigns may come less in handy for some as they try to win over independent voters and appeal across party lines.

“You’re going to need some voters from the other party,” Skinner said. “Even for a Democrat, you could be in a position where you have to—you’ve got to make it clear how you’re different than Washington.”

The candidates’ campaign experience gave them hefty money leads over many of their challengers in the second quarter. Demings reported $3.1 million cash-on-hand, more than her primary opponents vying for the Florida Senate seat.

Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio)
Photographer: Anna Moneymaker/The New York Times/Bloomberg
Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio) says he has a statewide network that will help him in his Senate race.

Ryan, who unsuccessfully ran for president in 2020, has $2.6 million cash-on-hand after the second quarter. He’s likely to win the Democratic nomination in a small field of relatively unknown candidates, but he faces competition in the general election from a handful of highly funded Republican candidates. The Cook Political Report rates the race as leaning Republican.

Ryan said he’s confident his work and connections across the state of Ohio, not just his district, will help him.

“We have always taken a big interest in issues around the state,” he said in an interview. “We’ve always been helpful, so we have a pretty good network around the state.”

Alabama’s Brooks, the firebrand Trump-supporter who opposed certifying the 2020 presidential results, trails Katie Britt, a former aide to retiring Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), by almost half a million dollars in cash-on-hand. Brooks previously lost a Senate special election primary in 2017 that didn’t require him to relinquish his House seat.

Budd leads the North Carolina money race with $1.7 million in cash after the second quarter, but several candidates are close to matching his fundraising in the tossup race. Those challengers don’t hold the same advantage that Budd does. Much of his financial edge stems from money he carried over from his 2020 House re-election campaign.

“If you’ve already run and won, it’s not a cold call, it’s a warm call,” Honold said.

Lamb, Wagner, Long, and Smith could also launch their Senate campaigns with substantial money cushions based on their second quarter reports.

Wagner, who plans to decide on running statewide “relatively soon,” said she is weighing the work she could accomplish in either chamber.

“The opportunity, especially as I will be finishing my tenth year, to serve in some higher leadership position, too, on my committees is always a pull. You have to go where I think you can best serve for your district and/or state,” she said in an interview.

With assistance from Emily Wilkins and Greg Giroux

To contact the reporter on this story: Nicole Sadek in Washington at nsadek@bloombergindustry.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Bennett Roth at broth@bgov.com; Robin Meszoly at rmeszoly@bgov.com

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