Piles of candy at the Senate (not pictured) are no longer under Pa. control (Wikimedia Commons)

💡 Get Philly smart 💡
with BP’s free daily newsletter

Read the news of the day in less than 10 minutes — not that we’re counting.

Pat Toomey’s decision not to seek reelection last year had big political implications, setting the stage for a competitive race that played a significant role in Democrats regaining control of the Senate.

It resulted in another — albeit slightly less politically significant — change that hasn’t gotten as much attention.

After 8 years, the Senate candy desk is no longer in Pennsylvania’s hands.

What’s the candy desk? It’s a desk in the last row of the Republican side of the Senate, near the busiest entrance to the chamber — and the senator who sits at it keeps it stocked with candy available to anyone in the Senate, regardless of political party.

Diagram showing the location of the candy desk in the U.S. Senate (Architect of the Senate)

It has its origins in the 1960s with a sweet-toothed California senator who sat in the back row and shared hard candy with his colleagues. It eventually became a tradition. 

The desk’s contents are generally donated by candy manufacturers or distributors from the occupant’s home state. Per Senate ethics rules, lawmakers generally can’t accept gifts over $50 — but products from the state they represent don’t count if they’re “intended primarily for promotional purposes” and available to anyone who visits their office.

Pennsylvania senators have had a honeyed history with the desk. Toomey held onto the desk assignment for two thirds of his 12 years in the Senate — from 2015 onward. Between 1997 and 2007, Sen. Rick Santorum was the chamber’s designated desserts distributor. 

Between the two, Pa. holds the record for the most years in control of the Senate’s sugar stash, per the official historical list. (Yes, they keep track.)

But now that both of Pennsylvania’s senators are Democrats (who reportedly have a competing candy desk that’s communally stocked) the commonwealth can no longer claim the storied seat as its own.

Sen. Todd Young of Indiana took over the seat this year, saying in a press release last week that a “taste of Hoosier hospitality” could maybe “sweeten the sometimes bitter divide in Washington.”

Young, a Republican who’s served in the Senate since 2017, was the most senior senator to request the desk in the Senate cloakroom, according to his communications director Matt Lahr.

However, the desk still has a Pennsylvania connection.

Young is a fifth-generation Hoosier who’s spent much of his life in the Midwest, but he was actually born in Pa. — the first one of the 19 senators who’ve held the candy desk to date. Toomey was born in Providence, Rhode Island, and Santorum was born in Winchester, Virginia, according to Congress’s biographical directory.

Per Young’s congressional bio, he was born in Lancaster, though on his Senate website he lists his hometown as Johnson County, Indiana. What gives? Young’s parents moved to Pennsylvania for his dad’s job after the couple got married, Lahr told Billy Penn. The family moved back to the Midwest not long after he was born, but Young’s mom has “very fond memories of their time in the Lancaster area.”

Pennsylvania has a big name when it comes to candy, from Peeps to the Hershey Company. 

Per the National Confectioners Association, the candy industry in Pennsylvania accounts for over 8,000 manufacturing jobs and 5,500 retail jobs — 14% and 4% of the national industry total, respectively. The only states that directly employ more people in the confectionery industry, according to the NCA’s state-by-state stats, are California and Illinois.

Some of the sweets kept in the desk during Toomey’s tenure were Hershey’s Kisses, Twizzlers, Pennsylvania Dutch caramels, 3 Musketeers, Turkish Taffy, Goldenberg’s Peanut Chews, and Palmer peanut butter cups.

Young’s candy desk reign will be the second time a Hoosier has held the sacred duty of Senate candy distribution. Sen. Richard Lugar, also of Indiana, was the designated candyman for one congress, from 1977 to 1979.

In Indiana, over 1,900 people are employed in candy manufacturing (3% of the national total) and 2,400 in candy selling (2% of the national total), according to NCA data.

Young, however, has managed to find plenty of Hoosier-made sweets to spotlight — with flavors ranging from sour to chocolatey to spicy. 

They include Albanese gummies manufactured in northwest Indiana, caramels from a Kraft factory in northeast Indiana, and mini Endangered Species Chocolate bars from the company’s Indianapolis HQ. 

He’s also sourced sweets from smaller shops, like The Sweet Tooth, a candy shop near the Illinois border, which donated some Sour Punch Straws made in the same region. Mr. Fudge’s Confectionary in southeast Indiana sent along some buckeyes.

The desk also holds some beloved red hots from the family-owned Schimpff’s Confectionery near the Kentucky border, which — founded in 1891 — is among the oldest candy shops in the country.

That’s not quite as old as Shane Confectionery in Old City, which started in the 1860s, but it does sound cute.

Asha Prihar is a general assignment reporter at Billy Penn. She has previously written for several daily newspapers across the Midwest, and she covered Pennsylvania state government and politics for The...