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Sinema and McSally aren’t the first senators to serve together after being campaign rivals

By: - January 11, 2019 9:36 am

U.S. Rep. Kyrsten Sinema and U.S. Rep. Martha McSally debate on Oct. 15. Photo courtesy YouTube

Arizona Sens. Kyrsten Sinema and Martha McSally are in the awkward position of entering the Senate together after a contentious battle on the campaign trail.

After Sinema, a Democrat, won the seat vacated by former Sen. Jeff Flake, the Republican McSally was appointed to fill the late Sen. John McCain’s seat. It’s an unusual situation for incoming senators.

Now, the former rivals will undoubtedly run into each other with regularity in the halls of the U.S. Capitol. They’ve also been appointed to two of the same committees: the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs; and the Senate Special Committee on Aging. They previously served together in Arizona’s House delegation, but that was before the heated Senate campaign.

They’re not the first senators who duked it out during a campaign before going on to work together.

The Senate Historical Office provided the Arizona Mirror with a list of Senate candidates who ran against each other before becoming colleagues on Capitol Hill.

Senate historians found two examples of “a senator being appointed to serve alongside someone they initially lost an election against,” said Daniel Holt, an assistant historian in the Senate Historical Office.

Still, the Arizona situation is unique. Holt said historians found no examples in which a losing candidate was appointed to serve alongside the winning candidate immediately following the election.

In one similar situation in 1970, Ohio Democrat Howard Metzenbaum lost to Republican Robert Taft Jr. in a battle for the seat vacated when Democratic Sen. Stephen Young retired.

Ohio’s second Senate seat was vacated in January 1974, when Sen. William Saxbe resigned to become President Nixon’s attorney general. Metzenbaum was appointed to fill Saxbe’s seat for the rest of that year, serving alongside his former opponent, Taft.

Metzenbaum lost the 1974 Democratic primary to the astronaut John Glenn. But in 1976, Metzenbaum ran against Taft again and won. He served in the Senate until 1995.

Two former New Mexico rivals served together in the Senate in the 1960s.

In 1954, New Mexico Republican Gov. Edwin Mechem lost his bid to unseat Democratic incumbent Sen. Clinton Anderson.

But Mechem, re-elected governor in 1960, later appointed himself to the Senate in 1962 after the death of Democratic Sen. Dennis Chavez. Anderson and Mechem served together until 1964, when Mechem lost his Senate re-election bid.

Mechem was later appointed by President Nixon to the U.S. District Court for the District of New Mexico.

The Senate Historical Office also found a dozen examples since 1913 where defeated Senate candidates later won election to serve alongside their former opponents.

They include the 2002 South Dakota race, where Republican candidate John Thune lost to Democratic incumbent Tim Johnson.

In 2004, Thune waged an upset campaign to oust Tom Daschle, then the Senate’s top Democrat. Thune and Johnson served together until Johnson stepped down in 2015.

Ahead of Johnson’s retirement, Thune said in a farewell speech: “In 1996, after a decade in the U.S. House of Representatives, Tim won the first of his three terms in the U.S. Senate. I am well acquainted with his second election because I came out on the short end of that stick.”

Thune added that he and Johnson hadn’t “seen eye-to-eye on every issue,” but they’d always been able to work together in times of crisis. Thune told Johnson, “Thank you for your example, your efforts on behalf of our beloved South Dakota, and most of all, for your friendship.”

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Robin Bravender
Robin Bravender

Robin Bravender was the States Newsroom Washington Bureau Chief from January 2019 until June 2020. She coordinated the network’s national coverage and reported on states’ congressional delegations, federal agencies, the White House and the federal courts. Prior to that, Robin was an editor and reporter at E&E News, a reporter at Politico, and a freelance producer for Reuters TV.