Friday, February 26, 2016

Home State Losers

Listening to NPR this morning, I heard some pundit express the opinion that if one of the current presidential candidates couldn’t win their own home state, they were done. 

That made me wonder if there were any presidents who had not won their home state. A quick look at the Interwebs told me no (at least for the modern political era – i.e., after the Civil War).

So, how about the losers then? Well, would you believe that’s actually what happened in half of all presidential contests in that period?

Now, the fact that some of the candidates (major-party only) have been absolutely trounced explains quite a bit of that. But not all, mind you. 

So, here’s a list of the presidential candidates who have lost their home states. I’ve listed them in ascending order based on how much of the electoral college they won – in other words, from pretty explainable results to those that are little bit more of a mystery.

Here we go …

#18 – 1936, Alf Landon, Republican, Kansas (2%)

Poor Alf Landon, Can you imagine running against FDR in the middle of the Depression? Well, I guess someone had to do it. 

Yes, the symbol of Kansas is the sunflower

Landon was actually a likeable, pretty moderate candidate. He did win Maine and Vermont – at that time, bastions of the Republican Party. He also won 46% of the vote in his home state.

#17 – 1912, William Howard Taft, Republican, Ohio (2%)

Alright, here’s our outlier. This election was a real weird one – basically one of a handful that featured a serious 3rd party. In this case, that party was Teddy Roosevelt’s  he had served previously as Republican president, vowed to not run again, but reneged on that promise and ran on the Progressive ticket. Taft, the incumbent, would be the official Republican candidate.

Taft is the big one

TR would outpoll Taft by a score of 88 electoral votes to 11. The only state Taft would win would be Utah, of all places. Roosevelt and Taft would split Taft’s home state of Ohio, allowing that to fall to Woodrow Wilson (in addition to the whole election as well).

#16 – 1972, George McGovern, Democrat, South Dakota (3%)

Not totally sure why this one was up there with the Landon/FDR result when it came to numbers, but there you have it. McGovern was fairly liberal, as well as a bit of an unknown and something of a dark horse candidate as well.

The Eagleton Affair didn’t help any either

McGovern’s only victories were in Washington DC and in the People’s Republic of Massachusetts. SD was somewhat close, though, with McGovern winning all of 45%.

#15 – 1932, Herbert Hoover, Republican, Iowa (11%)

Poor Herbert Hoover. I’m sure the Dems could have run anybody and won.

It was really more like swap horses or drown

I debated throwing this one in here. Unlike a lot of candidates, Hoover didn’t have a strong connection with any particular state. Though born in Iowa, he also spent part of his youth in Oregon, spent his young adult years in California, and was generally extremely peripatetic (including stints in China, Australia, and London).

Well, turns out he didn’t win any of those. In fact, the only states he did win were all in the northeast (at the time, pretty solidly Republican) .

#14 – 1956, Adlai Stevenson, Democrat, Illinois (14%)
#12 – 1952, Adlai Stevenson, Democrat, Illinois (18%)

The prosperous, conformist, post-FDR 50’s were not a good time to be a Democrat. Poor Adlai Stevenson ran in both the ’52 and ’56 elections, but pretty much everyone but the South “liked Ike” instead.

Adlai Stevenson I was a winning VP candidate in 1892 and a losing one in 1900

Egghead Adlai lost his home state with just 45% of the vote in ’52 and an even lower 40% in ’56. And that makes him the only repeat offender on this whole list.

#13 – 1928, Al Smith, Democrat, New York (16%)

Al Smith was the first Catholic to run for president. Hard to believe, but that was a sure formula for defeat just less than 100 years ago. Back then, Republicans had targeted the Dems as the party of rum (anti-prohibition), Romanism (Catholicism), and rebellion (the South).

He was known as the “Happy Warrior”

Smith, a former governor of New York, did lose the state by only the slimmest of margins (47% to 50%). He’s actually one of 5 New Yorkers who have not carried their home state. Hmm, I wonder what this will mean for The Donald?

#11 – 1872, Horace Greeley, Democrat, New York (18%)

1872 was a weird one. Turns out the Republicans themselves were split. The main part of them, called the Stalwarts, voted for the incumbent, Grant. The Radical Republicans, however, started their own party, the Liberal Republicans (actually not an oxymoron way back then), and nominated Greeley. The Dems, who were highly motivated to defeat Grant, adopted Greeley as their candidate as well. Whuuut?

Can you imagine this guy getting any votes today?

Just to make things even more interesting, Greeley would subsequently pass away between the election and the actual seating of the Electoral College. And that meant that he would actually not get any of the electoral votes at all, with those being split between no less than 5 others.

#10 – 1944, Thomas Dewey, Republican, New York (19%)

Here’s another one that had to be pretty unwinnable as well. Imagine running against a sitting president, in wartime, who’s going for his fourth term, and who won the last 3 elections by 10%, 16%, and 17% of the popular vote.

Poor guy would not fare much better in 1948. Though everyone was sure he was going to win, Truman would beat him handily. Dewey would, however, hold New York this time. Both years were very close though – 46-45% in’48 and 47-52% in ‘44.

#9 – 1920, James Cox, Democrat, Ohio (24%)

1920 was the model for all but a handful of elections pretty much between Reconstruction and the Great Depression. In each of those elections, the South went blue and the rest of the country went red.

Dems were also known as the Wets back then
(Prohibition had been enacted just the year before)

Needless to say, Ohio is not part of the South. I’ll bet you may not have realized, though, that both candidates that year were from Ohio (the other one was Warren Harding). So, one of those guys was going to end up on this list. Harding would win pretty handily though – 58% to 39%.

#8 – 1924, John Davis, Democrat, WV (26%)

Finally, we’re over the 25% mark. The rest of these home-state losers were at least able to get over a quarter of the electoral votes.

Unfortunately, Davis’s results would look almost exactly the same as Cox’s – a blue South and everything else red. It was pretty close in WV though – 44% to 49%.

By the way, Davis’s loss would start a string of 5 straight elections – from 1920 through 1936 – where the losing candidate would also lose their own state. There have also been some repeats from election to election, but no other string quite like this one.

#7 – 1904, Alton Parker, Democrat, New York (29%)

Once again, we’ve got two guys from the same state. The sitting president – Teddy Roosevelt – would be the one to win this one however, 53% to 42%.

No, you’re right, Jefferson was not the Democratic candidate for president in 1904

And once again, we’ve got the same blue South / red everywhere else template. In fact, this one stood out primarily because one of the Southern states – Missouri – was the first to buck the trend and go Republican.

#6 – 1892, Benjamin Harrison, Republican, Indiana (33%)

And here we are at the one-third mark. It is important to note, though, that this is another one of those 3rd-party elections. The outsider this year was the Populist candidate James Weaver. My guess is Harrison would have won Indiana – and the election – if it hadn’t been for him.

Colorful, no?

This was an interesting election in that both Harrison and the eventual winner, Grover Cleveland, were running as incumbents. Harrison was actually the real incumbent, but Cleveland had been the president immediately preceding him.

Harrison would lose Indiana by less than 10,000 votes.

#5 – 1900, William Jennings Bryan, Democrat, Nebraska (35%)

This one fits that same blue-South template, but was a little different in that the Democrats were able to capture some Western states as well (Colorado, Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming). Interestingly, though, Nebraska was not one of them.

That same pattern would repeat in 1908, when Bryan won again. This time, though, he would be able to take his home state. He also won the Cornhusker state when he first ran for president, in 1896.

#4 – 2012, Mitt Romney, Massachusetts, Republican (38%)

Hard to believe, but this home-state loser phenomenon actually happened in the last election. Yup, Mitt Romney failed to hold Massachusetts, where he had been governor. Of course, how the People’s Democratic Republic of Massachusetts ever elected a Republican in the first place is totally beyond me. Poor Mitt was actually trounced in the Bay State, a whopping 38% to 61%. Buyer’s remorse?

Going for the Green vote?

#3 – 1888, Grover Cleveland, NY, Democratic (42%)

Grover Cleveland and Benjamin Harrison – together again, for the very first time. It’s a little hard to believe, but this election would be an exact mirror image of 1892. 

In ’92, Harrison lost the election and his home state, with Cleveland winning both. In 1888, Cleveland lost the election and his home state, with Harrison winning both. Honestly, I can’t make this stuff up.

He did get his picture on the $1000 bill however

#2 – 1880,  Winfield Scott Hancock, PA, Democratic (42%)

This was the first election where the South was really the Solid South. And that’s a tad ironic, as Hancock was actually a Union general. 

Poor guy, his Civil War exploits didn’t help him in his native state though. He would lose the Keystone State by 4%. Of course, he was running against another Civil War general, one James Garfield. Hancock was, however, the better looking one.

#1 – 2000, Al Gore, TN, Democratic (50%)

Remember this one? It was pretty darn close, wasn’t it? It wasn’t quite as close in Tennessee though. Gore lost the Volunteer State 47% to 51%. And I don’t believe there were any hanging chads there.

“This close!”

The South is about as red as you can get these days, a remarkable turn-around since the days when it was just as solidly Democratic. The South did make an exception for native sons Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton – in ‘76, ‘92, and ‘96. Not one Southern state went blue for Gore however. Looks like that flip is pretty much totally complete at this point.