Following the political news in the media, one would be hard-pressed to believe that the next presidential election is more than two years away. Al Gore has resurfaced, making speeches and seeking campaign contributions. Other potential candidates for the Democratic Party nomination are scurrying about the country, particularly to key primary states.
On the Republican side, speculation has already begun on how strong President George Bush will be as a candidate for a second term. The incumbent appears to be receiving high marks for his handling of the terrorist threat while simultaneously receiving lower marks for his handling of the economy and the industrial terrorists.
Meantime, news stories abound on which party might gain from the confrontation with Iraq.
Making the election seem closer is also the current attempt by various cities, like Detroit, to land one of the national political conventions.
Since all this is occurring despite two years until 2004, perhaps this is as appropriate a time as any to provide a historical perspective on what could occur in 2004.
What we can conclude by this exploration should be of at least some assistance in assessing Mr. Gore's and President Bush's chances two years from now.
I should mention that I will be neglecting candidates of third parties relative to how many times one or another may have received a second nomination from their party.
Reviewing past elections, 10 candidates received a second nomination after losing their first presidential run. Of these, five were victorious.
Interestingly, of the five losers, three received a third nomination, only to go down to defeat again: Charles Pinkney in our early history, Henry Clay in the mid-19th century, and William Jennings Bryan in 1896, 1900, and 1908.
Within this group of 10 are some fascinating historical tidbits. Most of us know of Harry Truman's astonishing underdog victory over Thomas Dewey in 1948. Forgotten is that that election was actually Dewey's second attempt, having lost to Franklin Roosevelt in 1944.
Of the 10 first-time losers, three - Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, and Richard Nixon - won a second term.
Within the losing ranks are men with distinguished service to our country: the aforementioned Henry Clay and William Jennings Bryan and, from more recent times, Adlai Stevenson, who lost twice to Dwight Eisenhower.
For Al Gore the above suggests the odds are even for winning in 2004 (everything else being equal). However, should he lose in 2004, trying to become a candidate for a third time in 2008 would clearly be ill-advised. Should he win in 2004, he could conceivably win a second term.
Turning now to my third and fourth questions affecting President Bush, 22 past presidents have sought a second term. (Certain presidents clearly indicated that they had no desire to run again, e.g., Ohio's own Rutherford B. Hayes. It should also be noted that I am not including President Gerald Ford, who lost in 1976 after assuming the office upon President Nixon's resignation. Mr. Ford never ran twice.)
Of the 22, 13 won a second term, with Franklin Roosevelt winning a third and fourth term. Grover Cleveland could also be included as a two-time winner, making the number 14. However, Cleveland won his second term after losing between his two terms. Winning in 1884 Cleveland lost to Benjamin Harrison in 1889, then came back to defeat Harrison in 1892, the only election in our history that pitted an incumbent president against a former president.
Incumbents who have lost trying for a second term number nine, including John Adams, John Quincy Adams, Martin Van Buren, two from Ohio - Benjamin Harrison and William Howard Taft - Grover Cleveland, Herbert Hoover, Jimmy Carter, and the first President Bush.
As might be expected, among the two-time winners are several of our most esteemed presidents: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, Abraham Lincoln, and Woodrow Wilson. Franklin Roosevelt had four victories. Two of the two-time winners are Ohioans Ulysses Grant and William McKinley, perhaps offsetting the two mentioned above who sought but lost a second term: Benjamin Harrison and William Howard Taft.
Thus, strictly on the historical factors considered here, George W. Bush would appear to have a good chance of being re-elected, all other factors being equal. Mr. Bush appears to be in a better position than Mr. Gore for a successful run in 2004.
Of course, though the candidates may not act like it, there are two long years between now and then, which means that much can occur to negate this historical perspective.
Gerald Bazer is Dean of Arts and Sciences at Owens Community College.
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