Who Runs for President?
Or History-Making Presidential Politics
Not too long ago – that is to say, “Once upon-a-time….” [for this is a fairy-tale of sorts], politicians in the U.S. fell to arguing about which occupation best prepared an individual to serve as president of the country. In the early days of the Republic, being s member of Congress was a “second job,” and most definitely not the work that put bread on the table. Many in the early congresses assembled were farmers, including George Washington and Thomas Jefferson – gentlemen farmers to be sure but still farmers Others were in business (“trade”) and still others were, even in the early days, lawyers.
As a matter of fact, the question has surfaced again and hovers as part of the atmospherics of the current run for the Oval Office. On the Republican side, two former governors, one sitting senator, and one sitting member of the House continue to vie for the G.O.P. nomination. One governor is the first member of the Church of Latter Day Saints (Mormons) to make a serious run for chief executive. For their part, the Democrats have broken a number of barriers.
- Governor Bill Richardson (NM) became the first competitive Hispanic to seek the presidency competitive, although he no longer is campaigning;
- Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton (NY) is the first woman to mount a credible campaign for the position of chief executive;
- Senator Barack Obama (IL) is the first African-American to mount a credible campaign for that same position.
But history may also be made in another way if, as expected, Senator John McCain (AZ) continues to gain on the other three candidates seeking the Republican nomination, even quite possibly winning enough delegates February 5 to go “over the top.” Regardless, whenever McCain secures the Republican nomination, the country will have, for the first time in its political history, sitting senators as the nominees for president in the two (or three) major parties
Among the 43 men who have either won the presidency or succeeded to that office on the death or resignation of the incumbent, nearly one-third – 13 -- served as vice-president under their predecessor in the Oval Office. In the early days of the Republic, for example, John Adams, a Federalist, served as vice-president for George Washington’s two terms before being chosen president in 1796. Adams’ vice-president was Thomas Jefferson, a Democratic-Republican. (Initially, whoever received the most votes in the Electoral College was president and the man with the second-highest number was vice-president regardless of party affiliation. Even so, the 1800 election was thrown into the House of Representatives because the Electoral College deadlocked when Jefferson and his opponent, Aaron Burr, each received 73 votes.).
Those who rose from the vice-presidency to chief executive and how they attained the office break out as follows:
Electoral College ballot: Adams, Jefferson, Van Buren, George H. W. Bush
Predecessor’s death from natural causes: Polk (on the death of William Henry
Harrison), Fillmore (on the death of Zachary Taylor), Coolidge (on the death of Warren Harding), Truman (on the death of Franklin Roosevelt),
Predecessor assassinated: Andrew Johnson (after Lincoln), Chester Arthur (after James Garfield), Theodore Roosevelt (after William McKinley), Lyndon Johnson (after Kennedy),
Predecessor resigned: Ford (after Nixon).
Nixon, Dwight Eisenhower’s vice-president, was chosen president eight years after the end of Eisenhower’s second term.
Seven governors have gone from the state mansion to the White House while an equal number failed in the transition – some more than once. Six incumbents were refused their party’s endorsement to run for a second term while eight seeking reelection were defeated. Lyndon Johnson famously declined to run in 1968.
Only once has a sitting governor met a sitting senator – Senator Harding versus Governor Cox.
Six members of a president’s cabinet have gone directly into the Oval Office: Madison, Monroe, John Quincy Adams, Grant, Taft, and Hoover. Madison, Monroe, and Adams were at state, although Monroe also served concurrently for two years at the War Department. Grant was Secretary of War ad interim in the last months of Andrew Johnson’s presidency, a position Taft also held. Hoover was Secretary of Commerce under Harding and Coolidge.
Interestingly, no race has been run between two governors.