LANSING, Mich. (MIRS News) – With current Democratic Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson and state Sen. Ruth Johnson (R-Holly) taking serious looks at running for U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Lansing)’s seat, it’s natural to see how past Secretaries have done when running for Governor or the U.S. Senate.
The answer: Since 1940, not well.
Not since former Gov. Frank Fitzgerald and former Gov. Harry F. Kelly won in the 1930s and 1940s have former Secretaries of State won a statewide election for Governor.
Of the 43 Secretaries of State in Michigan history, zero have ever been elected or served in the U.S. Senate.
Several have tried. The most recent was Terri Lynn Land, who lost to now-U.S. Sen. Gary Peters (D) in the open 2014 race.
EPIC-MRA pollster Bernie Porn checked in on what happened to a previous SOS who also ran for the U.S. Senate and lost — former Secretary of State Richard Austin.
In 1976, after then-U.S. Sen. Phil Hart decided to retire, there were two highly contested primaries as Democrats and Republicans hustled to win the seat.
The early front-runner on the Democratic side was Austin, who had won statewide in 1970 and 1974.
But then-U.S. Rep. Don Riegle got into the race and beat Austin in a four-horse Democratic primary 44.31% to 28.34%. Riegle went on to beat Republican Marv Esch, 52% to 46%. Riegle ended up getting into the seat early when Hart died after the election.
Going back to 1960, then-Secretary of State James Hare lost in a primary to then-Lt. Gov. John Swainson in the Democratic primary. Prior to Hare, former Secretary of State Fred Alger Jr. also tried to run for Governor but couldn’t make it past the Republican primary.
Porn is not predicting Benson or Johnson will lose if either gets into the hunt, but he warned, “The job of being a U.S. Senator is different than that of Secretary of State.”
He asserted that it is possible for either one to address their lack of hands-on Washington, D.C., experience, something U.S. Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-Holly), for example, brings to the table, but he concluded, “It will be a challenge.”
Both Benson and Johnson have won two statewide races handily, which are points in their favor.