They Also Served: The Senate Placeholders

There are some people in politics who do not have greater ambitions in the field when they enter the Senate.  These are the ones who were appointed or elected to hold the seat until the next election. These people did not try to run for a full term. A few are brought in simply by special election to finish what little of the term there is left and governors make such appointments for a few reasons. One may be to not grant anyone who wants the seat an incumbency advantage and another may be to ensure that their own senatorial ambitions are not hindered by a potentially popular rival. One might ask for the second one, why not just resign and have your successor to appoint yourself if you’re governor? This is because the track record is terrible for governors who effectively appoint themselves! Of the nine governors who took this route between 1933 and 1977, only one won the subsequent election, and this was Albert Benjamin “Happy” Chandler of Kentucky, who was already so popular that he had only narrowly lost a Senate primary narrowly to the highly popular Senate Majority Leader Alben W. Barkley. At an 11% success rate, governors who want to be senators are best off just running for the post in a proper election. Since if I listed all I’d go on all day, I’ll just list some of the more notable ones:

Joseph R. Grundy

A textile manufacturer and President of the Pennsylvania Manufacturers Association, Grundy was appointed after the Senate refused to seat Congressman William S. Vare, whose 1928 election was accused of being won through voter fraud. Grundy was primarily a lobbyist and had no ambitions beyond serving a year, after which Secretary of Labor James J. Davis won the election for a full term in 1930.

Octaviano Ambrosio Larrazolo

LARRAZOLO, Octaviano Ambrosio

Larrazolo was a man of firsts: he was the first Mexican American to be elected a governor of any state, serving from 1919 to 1921, and he was the first Mexican American to be a senator. As governor, he had fought for civil rights for Latinos. In 1927, Senator Andrieus Jones of New Mexico had died, and Larrazolo ran for the post in November 1928, winning the election to serve the remainder of the term. However, he was at the tail end of his career and his health quickly declined. He cast almost no votes as he was only present in the Senate until December, when he returned to Albuquerque, but stayed in office until March. He died one year later.  

Andrew Jackson Houston

Andrew Jackson Houston 2.jpg

Houston was the last surviving son of the legendary Texas Founding Father Sam Houston and he was appointed in 1941 after the death of Morris Sheppard as a political maneuver by Governor W. Lee “Pappy” O’Daniel, who wanted the seat. He was 86 years old and infirm, only actually participating in four days of Senate proceedings and a committee meeting. Senators were quite eager to meet him when he had arrived, as he was quite the link to history long past. Unfortunately, the journey to Washington had been too much on Houston, and he was subsequently was taken to Johns Hopkins University Hospital, where he died after only two months in office on June 26, 1941.

The Four Nebraskan Placeholders of the Early Fifties: Seaton, Bowring, Abel, and Reynolds

Nebraska during the early 50s was rocked with change. On November 29, 1951, Senate Minority Leader Kenneth Wherry died from contracting pneumonia after abdominal surgery. He was succeeded by Fred Seaton, a liberal Republican, who declined to run a full term. Seaton’s elected successor, Dwight Griswold, died on April 12, 1954 of a sudden and unexpected heart attack. Griswold was succeeded by Eva Bowring, who had been appointed until another election could be held to finish the term. This election was won by Hazel Abel, who had no intentions of going further than that with her only notable act being voting to censure Senator Joseph McCarthy. Abel would be succeeded by Carl Curtis, who would serve until 1979.

But wait, there’s more! Nebraska’s other senator, Hugh Butler, also died during the 83rd Congress on July 1, 1954. Samuel W. Reynolds, a coal businessman, was appointed a placeholder and served until Roman Hruska was elected to a full term and he would remain in the Senate until 1976.

Hall Stoner Lusk (D-Ore.)

In 1960, Senator Richard L. Neuberger died of a brain tumor. He was a Democrat, but Oregon’s governor, Mark Hatfield, was a Republican. Democrats feared that the popular Hatfield had senatorial ambitions and that if he sought a seat he would be unbeatable. The obvious choice for Neuberger’s successor would have been his wife Maurine, who was also a politician. However, Hatfield didn’t want to grant an incumbency advantage nor did he want to give the appearance that he was granting a partisan advantage, so instead of picking Neuberger’s widow or a Republican, he selected Democrat Hall Stoner Lusk, a justice of the Oregon Supreme Court who was by this time well into his seventies and thus had no further career ambitions. Lusk served from March 16th to November 8th, 1960, when Maurine Neuberger succeeded him, having won election to a full term. The Democrats, by the way, were right to fear Hatfield: he would succeed Neuberger after a single term and serve from 1967 to 1997.

Benjamin A. Smith (D-Mass.)

After John F. Kennedy was elected president, someone needed to hold the seat until another Kennedy could occupy it, and the newly elected president advised Governor Foster Furcolo to appoint Benjamin A. Smith, a family friend and his former roommate at Harvard, to the seat. Critics pointed out exactly what Smith was, and as expected, he served from December 1960 to November 1962, when Ted Kennedy ran for and won the seat.

Norris H. Cotton (R-N.H.)

Norris Cotton wouldn’t normally be on this list, having already had a long career in Washington from 1947 to 1974, but the Senate election that year was a squeaker between Republican Louis Wyman and Democrat John Durkin and an interim senator needed to be appointed while the results were recounted, so Cotton was, once again, in the Senate from August 8 to September 18, 1975, and was succeeded by the victor: Durkin.

Ted Kaufman (D-Del.)

Ted Kaufman was appointed to fill the vacancy left from Joe Biden’s resignation to serve as vice president on January 16, 2009. He became most known for his praise of federal employees in response to criticisms of them and in 2010, he opted not to run for a full term.

Paul G. Kirk (D-Mass.)

The 2009-10 session was a turbulent time for the Senate, with multiple senators resigning or dying. In this case, the Senate’s departure was Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.), who died of brain cancer. Kirk, a longtime player in national Democratic politics who had at one time chaired the Democratic National Committee and had been an aide to Kennedy, was appointed to hold the seat from September 24, 2009  to February 4, 2010, when he stepped down after the election of Scott Brown.

Carte Goodwin (D-W.V.)

Longtime Senator Robert Byrd (D-W.V.) died on June 28, 2010, and a far younger man was appointed as placeholder. Goodwin was meant to hold the spot for the man who appointed him and who he had once run a campaign for, Joe Manchin, who wished to move up to senator.

Mo Cowan (D-Mass.)

In 2013, Massachusetts once again had a Senate vacancy to fill. Senator John F. Kerry was nominated Secretary of State by President Obama and resigned his seat. Cowan stated upon his appointment, “This is going to be a very short political career. I am not running for office. I’m not a candidate for public service at any time today or in the future” (Cassidy & Chabot). He served from February 1 to July 16, 2013.

Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.)

Jon Kyl already had a 26-year career of accomplishment in Washington, but he was once again briefly called for service after the death of Senator John McCain, serving from September 5 to December 31, 2018.  During this time, he voted to confirm Brett Kavanaugh.


Cassidy, C. & Chabot, H. (2013, January 30). Gov names adviser Mo Cowan to interim Senate post. Boston Herald.

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Oliver, M. (2000, February 24). Maurine Neuberger; One of First Women in Senate. Los Angeles Times.

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Rudin, K. (2009, September 8). When Governors Appoint Themselves To The Senate. National Public Radio.

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