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United States Senate elections, 1938


United States Senate elections, 1938

United States Senate elections, 1938

November 8, 1938

36 of the 96 seats in the United States Senate
49 seats needed for a majority
  Majority party Minority party
Leader Alben Barkley Charles McNary
Party Democratic Republican
Leader's seat Kentucky Oregon
Last election 76 seats 16 seats
Seats before 75 17
Seats won 68 23
Seat change 7 7

  Third party Fourth party
Party Farmer–Labor Progressive
Last election 2 seats 1 seat
Seats before 2 1
Seats won 2 1
Seat change

  Republican holds
  Republican pickups
  Democratic holds
  Democratic pickups

Majority Leader before election

Alben Barkley

Elected Majority Leader

Alben Barkley

The U.S. Senate elections of 1938 occurred in the middle of Franklin Delano Roosevelt's second term. This occurred six years after the Democratic landslide in the 1932 election, and so the opposition Republicans gained seven seats from the Democrats. However, the Democrats retained a commanding lead over the Republicans with more than two-thirds of the chamber.


  • Background 1
  • Gains and losses 2
  • Change in Senate composition 3
    • Senate composition before the elections 3.1
    • Senate composition as a result of the elections 3.2
  • Senate contests in 1938 4
    • Separate elections 4.1
    • November elections 4.2
  • Further reading 5
  • See also 6
  • References 7


A contemporary account [1] cited a number of reasons for the losses suffered by the Democrats. The first was the Recession of 1937, which had continued into the first half of 1938, and which had arguably weakened public confidence in the administration's Millard Tydings of Maryland and Ellison Smith of South Carolina, along with the chairman of the House Rules Committee, John J. O'Connor of New York. While a number of New Deal supporters won primary elections, such as Sen. Alben Barkley in Kentucky, who defeated future baseball commissioner Happy Chandler, Sen. James P. Pope of Idaho, a prominent New Deal supporter, lost his bid for re-nomination, as did California senator William McAdoo, though McAdoo's Democratic opponent Sheridan Downey had campaigned as a liberal New Dealer who would also do more to improve pension plans.[2]

Given the high levels of Democratic success in the 1930, 1932, 1934 and 1936 elections, the Democrats were in a difficult position in defending a large number of seats, even without these pressures. Ironically, this was the first of five consecutive elections where the GOP made gains in the Senate.

Gains and losses

Overall, the Democrats lost 7 seats to Republicans

  1. Augustine Lonergan (D-CT)
  2. George McGill (D-KS), the last Democrat ever elected to the Senate from Kansas
  3. Fred H. Brown (D-NH)
  4. John Gerald Milton (D-NJ) had been appointed to replace A. Harry Moore (D), who resigned. Milton did not run in the special election to finish the current term (ending in 1941).
  5. Robert J. Bulkley (D-OH)
  6. Herbert Hitchcock (D-SD) had been appointed to replace Peter Norbeck (R), who died. Hitchock lost the Democratic primary both to finish the current term (ending in 1939) and for the new term (ending in 1945).
  7. F. Ryan Duffy (D-WI)

Change in Senate composition

Senate composition before the elections

D8 D7 D6 D5 D4 D3 D2 D1
D9 D10 D11 D12 D13 D14 D15 D16 D17 D18
D28 D27 D26 D25 D24 D23 D22 D21 D20 D19
D29 D30 D31 D32 D33 D34 D35 D36 D37 D38
D48 D47 D46 D45 D44 D43 D42 D41 D40 D39
D49 ← Majority
D50 D51 D52 D53 D54 D55 D56 D57 D58
D68 D67 D66 D65 D64 D63 D62 D61 D60 D59
D69 D70 D71 D72 D73 D74 D75 V1 R16 R15
R5 R6 R7 R8 R9 R10 R11 R12 R13 R14
R4 R3 R2 R1 I1 P1 FL2 FL1
  • V1: New York seat: Royal Copeland (D) died June 17, 1938, and the seat was filled by special election in November.

Senate composition as a result of the elections

D8 D7 D6 D5 D4 D3 D2 D1
D9 D10 D11 D12 D13 D14 D15 D16 D17 D18
D28 D27 D26 D25 D24 D23 D22 D21 D20 D19
D29 D30 D31 D32 D33 D34 D35 D36 D37 D38
D48 D47 D46 D45 D44 D43 D42 D41 D40 D39
D49 ← Majority
D50 D51 D52 D53 D54 D55 D56 D57 D58
D68O D67O D66O D65O D64 D63 D62 D61 D60 D59
D69O R23+ R22+ R21+ R20+ R19+ R18+ R17+ R16O R15
R5 R6 R7 R8 R9 R10 R11 R12 R13 R14
R4 R3 R2 R1 I1 P1 FL2 FL1
D =Democratic
FL =Farmer–Labor
P =Progressive
R =Republican
V =Vacant
= Incumbent re-elected
O = Party hold: New senator elected from same party
+ = Party gain: New senator elected from different party

Senate contests in 1938

Separate elections

Date State Incumbent Party Status Opposing Candidates
January 10, 1938 Alabama
Special: Class 2
Dixie Bibb Graves Democratic Appointee retired
Winner elected to finish term ending January 3, 1939
Democratic hold
Lister Hill (Democratic)

November elections

State Incumbent Result Candidates
Senator Party
Alabama Lister Hill Democratic Re-elected Lister Hill (Democratic) 86.4%
J. M. Pennington (Republican) 13.6%
Arizona Carl Hayden Democratic Re-elected Carl Hayden (Democratic) 76.5%
B. H. Clingan (Republican) 23.5%
Arkansas Hattie W. Caraway Democratic Re-elected Hattie W. Caraway (Democratic) 89.6%
C. D. Atkinson (Republican) 10.4%
California William G. McAdoo Democratic Lost renomination
Democratic hold
Sheridan Downey (Democratic) 54.4%
Philip Bancroft (Republican) 44.7%
Lillain Symes Clements (Socialist) 0.9%
Colorado Alva B. Adams Democratic Re-elected Alva B. Adams (Democratic) 58.2%
Archibald A. Lee (Republican) 40.2%
Connecticut Augustine Lonergan Democratic Lost re-election
Republican gain
John A. Danaher (Republican) 42.9%
Augustine Lonergan (Democratic) 40.0%
Bellani Trombley (Socialist) 15.8%
Florida Claude Pepper Democratic Re-elected Claude Pepper (Democratic) 82.5%
Thomas E. Swanson (Republican) 17.6%
Georgia Walter F. George Democratic Re-elected √ Walter F. George (Democratic), Unopposed
Idaho James P. Pope Democratic Lost renomination
Democratic hold
D. Worth Clark (Democratic) 54.7%
Donald A. Callahan (Republican) 44.9%
Illinois William H. Dieterich Democratic Retired
Democratic hold
Scott W. Lucas (Democratic) 51.3%
Richard J. Lyons (Republican) 48.3%
Indiana Frederick Van Nuys Democratic Re-elected Frederick Van Nuys (Democratic) 49.8%
Raymond E. Willis (Republican) 49.5%
Herman L. Seeger (Prohibition) 0.4%
Louis E. Roebuck (Socialist) 0.1%
Miles Blansett (Communist) 0.1%
Iowa Guy M. Gillette Democratic Re-elected Guy M. Gillette (Democratic) 49.7%
Lester J. Dickinson (Republican) 49.4%
Kansas George McGill Democratic Lost re-election
Republican gain
Clyde M. Reed (Republican) 56.2%
George McGill (Democratic) 43.8%
Kentucky Alben W. Barkley Democratic Re-elected Alben W. Barkley (Democratic) 62.0%
John P. Haswell (Republican) 38.0%
Louisiana John H. Overton Democratic Re-elected, 99.8 John H. Overton (Democratic)
Maryland Millard E. Tydings Democratic Re-elected Millard E. Tydings (Democratic) 68.3%
Oscar Lesser (Republican) 29.3%
Missouri Bennett Champ Clark Democratic Re-elected Bennett Champ Clark (Democratic) 60.7%
Harry S. Caulfield (Republican) 39.2%
Nevada Patrick A. McCarran Democratic Re-elected Patrick A. McCarran (Democratic) 59.0%
Tasker L. Oddie (Republican) 41.0%
New Hampshire Fred H. Brown Democratic Lost re-election
Republican gain
Charles W. Tobey (Republican) 54.2%
Fred H. Brown (Democratic) 45.8%
New Jersey
(Special: Class 1)
John G. Milton Democratic Retired
Republican gain
W. Warren Barbour (Republican) 53.0%
William H. J. Ely (Democratic) 45.7%
New York
(Special: Class 1)
Vacant Royal S. Copeland (D) died June 17, 1938
Democratic hold
James M. Mead (Democratic) 53.6%
Edward F. Corsi (Republican) 45.8%
New York
(General: Class 3)
Robert F. Wagner Democratic Re-elected Robert F. Wagner (Democratic) 54.5%
John L. O'Brian (Republican) 45.0%
North Carolina Robert R. Reynolds Democratic Re-elected Robert R. Reynolds (Democratic) 63.8%
Charles A. Jonas (Republican) 36.2%
North Dakota Gerald P. Nye Republican Re-elected Gerald P. Nye (Republican) 50.1%
William Langer (Independent) 42.6%
J. J. Nygard (Democratic) 7.3%
Ohio Robert J. Bulkley Democratic Lost re-election
Republican gain
Robert A. Taft (Republican) 53.6%
Robert J. Bulkley (Democratic) 46.4%
Oklahoma Elmer Thomas Democratic Re-elected Elmer Thomas (Democratic) 65.4%
Harry G. Glasser (Republican) 33.9%
(Special: Class 3)
Alfred E. Reames Republican Appointee retired
Winner of special election finished term.
Winner of general election served next term
Republican hold
Alexander G. Barry (Republican)
(General: Class 3)
Rufus C. Holman (Republican) 54.9%
Willis Mahoney (Democratic) 45.1%
Pennsylvania James J. Davis Republican Re-elected James J. Davis (Republican) 54.7%
George H. Earle (Democratic) 44.4%
South Carolina Ellison D. Smith Democratic Re-elected Ellison D. Smith (Democratic), Unopposed
South Dakota
(Special: Class 3)
Herbert E. Hitchcock Democratic Appointee lost elections to finish term and to next terms
Republican gain
Gladys Pyle (Republican) 58.1%
John T. McCullen (Democratic) 41.9%
South Dakota
(General: Class 3)
Chandler Gurney (Republican) 52.5%
Tom Berry (Democratic) 47.5%
(Special: Class 1)
George L. Berry Democratic Lost renomination
Democratic hold
Tom Stewart (Democratic)[3] 70.5%
Harley G. Fowler (Republican) 26.2%
Utah Elbert D. Thomas Democratic Re-elected Elbert D. Thomas (Democratic) 55.8%
Franklin S. Harris (Republican) 44.2%
Vermont Ernest W. Gibson Republican Re-elected Ernest W. Gibson (Republican) 65.7%
John McGrath (Democratic) 34.3%
Washington Homer T. Bone Democratic Re-elected Homer T. Bone (Democratic) 62.6%
Ewing D. Colvin (Republican) 37.1%
Eugene Solie (Socialist Labor) 0.3%
Wisconsin F. Ryan Duffy Democratic Lost re-election
Republican gain
Alexander Wiley (Republican) 47.7%
Herman L. Ekern (Progressive) 26.6%
F. Ryan Duffy (Democratic) 24.7%

Further reading

  • Dunn, Susan. Roosevelt's Purge: How FDR Fought to Change the Democratic Party (2010) excerpt and text search
  • Hixson, Walter L. "The 1938 Kentucky Senate Election: Alben W. Barkley, "Happy" Chandler, and The New Deal." Register of the Kentucky Historical Society (1982): 309-329. in JSTOR
  • Plesur, Milton. "The Republican Congressional Comeback of 1938", Review of Politics Vol. 24, No. 4 (Oct. 1962), pp. 525–562 in JSTOR

See also


  1. ^ 1939 Britannica Book of the Year, "Democratic Party", pages 205-6
  2. ^ LIFE. Time Inc. p. 13.  
  3. ^ Won special election in November 1938, but remained district attorney general until January 16, 1939, after the next Congress began.


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