2008 - Eighty Years in the Making
One reason we are especially excited for the 2008 Presidential election (aside from the obvious one that we will be rid of George W. Bush, the worst President of the modern era) is that it will be the first election in eighty years where a sitting President or Vice President is not involved in the running. Taking a look at the last 19 Presidential elections produces an interesting score card.
In 15 of the last 19 elections, the President was running for re-election, but only 14 times did the President make it to the ballot. In 1952, a very unpopular President Harry Truman was not able to win the Democratic nomination to run against an apparently invincible Dwight Eisenhower. Franklin Roosevelt was the only President to run more than once for re-election; his three re-elections led to the 22nd Amendment to the Constitution, limiting the President to two terms. Truman had been re-elected in 1948 after taking over the Presidency on the death of Roosevelt during his fourth term. This group of re-runners includes two more men who were never elected President, but moved up from Vice-President when the Presidential office became vacant, Lyndon Johnson when John Kennedy was assassinated, and Gerald Ford when Nixon resigned. Ford is the only man ever to become President without having been elected as either President or Vice-President; he was appointed VP after Spiro Agnew resigned in disgrace and then became President after Richard Nixon resigned under cloud of impeachment. Nixon-Agnew set a record which cannot be topped, both the President and Vice-President resigning in shame.
Of the 15 tries, the President won re-election 10 times. The re-elected Presidents were: Roosevelt (in 36, 40 and 44), Truman in the famous upset of 1948, Eisenhower in 52, Johnson in 64, Nixon in 72, Reagan in 84, Clinton in 96 and Bush II in 2004. The losers were Hoover in 32, Truman, who lost the nomination in 1952, Ford in 76, Carter in 80, and Bush I in 92. Truman was disliked for many reasons in 1952, Ford was suspect for never having been elected in the first place and for promptly pardoning Nixon for any Watergate crimes, and the other three, Hoover, Carter and Bush I lost mostly because of bad economic conditions.
In 4 of the last 19 elections, a sitting Vice-President was in the running. The only winner was Bush I as expected in 1988. Three Vice-Presidents lost their bids for the top spot, and Richard Nixon was involved in two of those contests. VP Nixon lost an extremely close 1960 race to Kennedy and then won in 1968 over Vice-President Hubert Humphrey, who was a political victim of the Vietnam War. The third VP to lose a run for President was Al Gore in 2000, though he won the popular vote and some of us think also the electoral college.
Too bad Dick Cheney is so decrepit; I would love to see the Republicans stuck with him as their candidate in 2008. Can you say landslide or sweep? My expectation right now is that we will see two sitting or former Governors on the ballot. Maybe Mitt Romney for the GOP and someone like Tom Vilsack, who announced today that he is running, for the Democrats.
The reason why the 1928 election was void of candidates from the White House is interesting. The incumbent Republican President Calvin Coolidge decided to retire after two terms, and his VP, Charles G. Dawes, was so unpopular with the GOP power structure that he did not even try for the nomination. Dawes sounds like a fascinating man. He was a Nobel Peace Prize winner and also wrote the music to a song that became #1 in my high school years. He was a man of many talents, but one of them was not endearing himself to politicians. So Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover got the 1928 Republican nomination to finish the “roaring twenties” with the Coolidge philosophy of “the business of America is business”. Hoover was elected President, only to be soundly defeated in his 1932 re-election bid by Franklin Roosevelt, after the country had fallen into the Great Depression.