Here’s a fun historical rumination for a Friday afternoon. If Mitt Romney is to win the presidency, he’ll likely have to clear a high historical hurdle: Getting elected while losing both his state of residence (Massachusetts) and his native state (Michigan).
When is the last time that happened?
I put the question to John Wolley, the co-founder of the American Presidency Project. His answer: The last person to get elected president while losing his home state and his state of birth was James Polk, in 1844.
It’s often pointed out that Romney will have to win the presidency without his home state, which, if he pulls it off, will put him in the same category as Richard Nixon and Woodrow Wilson. Nixon lost New York, his home state at the time, but won his native California, a key to his victory. Wilson lost his home state of New Jersey, where he was president of Princeton, but won his native state of Virginia.
Meanwhile, there have also been three presidents who were elected while losing their native state but winning their state of residence. The two Bushes both lost their native New England States, Massachusetts and Connecticut, but won their home state of Texas. Abraham Lincoln lost his home state of Kentucky but won his home state of Illinois.
However, to find someone who was elected without winning either, you have to reach back 168 years to Polk, who was elected president in 1844 despite losing his native state of North Carolina and his home state of Tennessee, where he had been Governor.
Romney will likely have to duplicate that feat. He isn’t contesting Massachuetts, his state of residence, and the odds are against him in his native state of Michigan, because of his opposition to the bailout.
What does it mean? This rare set of historical circumstances is not necessarily predictive, but it goes right to the heart of an odd fact about Romney: He doesn’t really have a geographical base of his own; it’s one he’s inheriting as a generic Republican candidate.
“Most successful politicians have a clear home base, and have made a connection that already works for them,” says Wolley, who the political science department chair at the University of California at Santa Barbara.
By the way: The American Presidency Project has a really cool set of maps and result scoreboards for every presidential election going all the way back. And there’s lots of other great stuff on its web site that you should check out.