The House as a Stepping Stone to the Senate: Why Do So Few African American House Members Run?

Authors


  • An earlier version of this article was presented at the 2009 conference on “Legislative Elections, Process, and Policy: The Influence of Bicameralism” sponsored by the Department of Political Science and the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions at Vanderbilt University. We thank Alan Abramowitz, Joshua Clinton, John Geer, Suzanne Globetti, Christian Grose, Cindy Kam, David Lewis, Kathryn Pearson, Efren Perez, Wendy Schiller, Barbara Sinclair, Stephen Utych, and the anonymous reviewers at AJPS for their help on and assistance with this research. Replication data can be found at http://www.vanderbilt.edu/political-science/bio/bruce-oppenheimer.

Gbemende Johnson is a PhD student, Department of Political Science, Vanderbilt University, 230 Appleton Place, Nashville, TN 37203 (gbemende.johnson@vanderbilt.edu). Bruce I. Oppenheimer is Professor of Political Science, Vanderbilt University, 230 Appleton Place, Nashville, TN 37203 (bruce.oppenheimer@vanderbilt.edu). Jennifer L. Selin is a PhD student, Department of Political Science, Vanderbilt University, 230 Appleton Place, Nashville, TN 37203 (jennifer.l.selin@vanderbilt.edu).

Abstract

Although a commonly recognized pathway to the U.S. Senate is through the U.S. House of Representatives, only four African American House members have run for the Senate since the passage of the 17th Amendment, and none have been elected. We examine why so few African American House members run for the Senate. Using an original dataset that includes all House members in the 102nd through the 110th Congresses, we explore the decision of House members, particularly African American House members, to run for the Senate. Despite the fact that so few African American House members have run for the Senate, our results raise doubts about the existence of direct race-based explanations. Instead, we demonstrate with mediation analysis that contextual factors linked to race, such as state population, ability to raise campaign funds, and ideological extremity, play an intervening role in the strategic decision to run. These findings have normative implications for descriptive representation.

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