U.S. Senators, as one might surmise, rarely pass up an opportunity to tout their home states – what businesses are based there, what products are made there – and that trait is on display in an unusual place. It’s at a spot in the back of the Senate chamber, known as the “candy desk.”
The history of the U.S. Senate’s candy desk goes back to 1965. Donald Ritchie, the head of the Senate Historical Office, says Sen. George Murphy (R-CA), “an old song-and-dance man,” had a sweet tooth.
“Sen. Murphy filled his desk drawer with candies, which he dipped into,” Ritchie says. “And then he invited his colleagues to stop whenever they wanted to.”
Murphy lost his seat in 1970, but the tradition continued. The desk, which is right by the main door to the Senate chamber, currently belongs to Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL). “You have a chance to sell your state’s products there,” he says. “Or talk about stuff.”
Today, it is chock full of candies manufactured in the Land of Lincoln. For Kirk, a fan of Chicago’s Ferrara Candy Company, it’s personal.
“They offered me all of the desks on the Republican side, and I wanted to make sure that those bastards in Hershey, Penn., couldn’t get the candy desk,” he says, laughing.
Kirk is referring, of course, to the Hershey Candy Company, which had a monopoly on senators’ sweets for years. The desk used to belong to Rick Santorum, and the former Republican senator from Pennsylvania filled it with Kit Kats and Kisses.
I asked all 100 senators to name their favorite candies, and they all seem partial to what is manufactured back home. New Hampshire’s Jeanne Shaheen likes dark chocolate salted caramels from Granite State Candy, for instance. Georgia’s Jonny Isakson likes Snickers, which include, he points out, Georgia peanuts.
The desk has suited some senators better than others. George Voinovich represented Ohio, a state not known for its confections. So, his tenure at the candy desk didn’t last long. “I think it was one year,” he recalls. “That was enough.”
George LeMieux used to sit at the desk. “I used to joke that it was an unfunded mandate that I had to provide candy for the rest of my senators,” he says. “But I was happy to do so.”
Kirk, the man currently charged with filling the candy desk’s drawers, likes Jelly Belly-brand jelly beans, and there are plenty of those in the candy desk, but he also stocks it with baby aspirin. He had a stroke in 2012, and a small daily dose of the pain killer, he tells his colleagues and constituents, can prevent strokes and heart attacks.
While this means there is less room for Illinois candy, Kirk is able to draw attention to another constituent: the company that makes the aspirin is based outside of Chicago.
The preferred candies of your elected officials
They may not be in charge of the candy desk, but we wanted to know anyway: What are your senator’s favorite sweets? Below, a yearbook of the candies that melt hearts and minds: