Meet me at the candy desk: Behind the US Senate’s sweet tradition

Candy desk drawer in 1970s. (Senate Archive)
Candy desk drawer in 1970s. (Senate Archive) (WDIV)

While politicians have spent decades arguing back and forth on the floor of the U.S. Senate, something a bit sweeter has stood in the corner.

The U.S. Senate’s “candy desk” is not just an old legend or sweet myth -- it’s real -- and it’s filled with candy.

In traveling from a Senate office building to the Capitol, most senators enter the Senate Chamber through its eastern door, adjacent to elevators leading from the Senate subway. Just inside this door, to the right, along the aisle at the rear row on the Republican side, sits the “candy desk.”

This conveniently located fixture serves as a gathering spot for senators wishing to satisfy a late-afternoon energy deficit. California Senator George Murphy began this tradition more than 40 years ago.

Soon after he entered the Senate in 1965, the former Hollywood actor and film executive began stocking his Chamber desk with candy to gratify his sweet tooth. In 1968, he moved to an aisle desk on the last row near the elevator entrance. Given the member traffic that regularly passed by his new location, he invited other senators to help themselves and soon his desk became known to all as the “candy desk.”

After Murphy left the Senate in 1971, other senators who occupied the desk at that location carried on the tradition of keeping it well stocked with assorted mints, hard candies, and chocolates. Some senators asked for specific brands of candies and contributed funds for their replenishment.

Various home-state candy companies have been happy to donate supplies. Given the candy desk’s last-row location, its custodians have typically been members in their freshman term, including John McCain, Slade Gorton, Robert Bennett, and Rick Santorum.

Currently, the candy desk belongs to Pennsylvania U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey. It’s normally filled with Mars and Hershey products.

While the desk is held by Republicans, it’s meant to be a bipartisan joy, meaning the Democrats can also partake. But Democrats also have their own candy desk, since at least the 1980s.

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