When Sen. Dick Durbin wins re-election next year -- there’s no “if” involved, because Durbin is so popular he’ll win even if he’s caught robbing Lincoln’s Tomb -- he’ll make history by becoming the first Illinois Democrat to win four terms, and the state’s second-longest serving senator overall.
Unlike Southern states, which started off senators in their 30s or 40s, then re-elected them until death so they could build up the seniority necessary to preserve segregation, Illinois hasn’t had many long-term senators. The record holder is Shelby Moore Cullom, who served from 1883 to 1913. Cullom was the only Illinois senator ever elected to a fourth term -- this in the days when the legislature, not the voters, chose senators.
Three others have been elected three times -- Stephen A. Douglas, Paul Douglas and Charles H. Percy. Stephen Douglas died in office, while Paul Douglas and Percy were defeated in their campaigns for fourth terms -- Douglas by Percy, and Percy by Paul Simon.
Durbin’s re-election will be personally satisfying because it will mean he has exceeded the political longevity of his mentor, Paul Douglas. As a student at Georgetown University, Durbin worked as an aide to Douglas, holding papers so the senator, who lost the use of an arm in World War II, could sign them. Douglas nicknamed the young man “Dick,” and Durbin named his first-born son after the senator. While working for Douglas, Durbin decided he wanted to be a senator when he grew up. Now he is, and one of the greatest in Illinois’s history.