All four GOP candidates face rare prospect of a home-state loss

at 10:34 AM ET, 02/21/2012

If you’re a 2012 Republican presidential candidate, home might not feel so welcoming these days.

It’s possible that all four remaining GOP candidates could lose a state that they call home — a prospect Newt Gingrich noted in an interview over the weekend.
Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney could lose the primary in Michigan, the state where he was born and reared and where his father was governor. But he might not be the only GOP candidate to lose a home state. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

And even if only one or two actually do, it would be a pretty rare feat.

Mitt Romney trails in next Tuesday’s primary in Michigan, the state where he was born and reared and his father served as governor, while polls indicate Gingrich, Rick Santorum, and Ron Paul could have trouble in the states they represented in Congress — Pennsylvania, Georgia and Texas, respectively.

Gingrich and Santorum are already guaranteed not to win the state in which they currently reside — Virginia — because they didn’t make the ballot there. Romney, it should be noted, is likely to win the state where he served as governor, Massachusetts, in its March 6 primary. And he won the first-in-the-nation primary in neighboring New Hampshire, where he owns a vacation home (He has repeatedly called Michigan his home state, though).

In addition to Romney trailing in Michigan, the most recent polling shows Paul way behind in Texas, Santorum tied in Pennsylvania, and Gingrich leading by nine points in Georgia — a margin that seems far from insurmountable, especially given the tumultuous nature of this primary season and the fact that Gingrich’s opponents plan to campaign hard in Georgia ahead of the March 6 primary.

So how rare is it for a presidential candidate to lose his or her home state in a nominating contest?

Pretty rare.

According to a review of recent primary results by The Fix, the last big-name presidential candidate to lose a state where he has held elective office was California Gov. Jerry Brown in the 1992 Democratic presidential primary, when he fell to Bill Clinton. Of course, that primary was held in June, when Clinton had all but locked up the nomination; Brown was fighting a losing battle by that point.

A better example may be George H.W. Bush’s loss in the 1980 Texas GOP primary, which he lost to Ronald Reagan while the race was still somewhat competitive.

In 1996, businessmen Steve Forbes lost both the state where he was born — New Jersey — and his home state — New York — in the Republican primary, but given that he had never been on the ballot in either state before, it’s harder to make the case that it represented a setback.

Besides Brown and Forbes, three candidates not generally considered to have had a chance at the nomination — Paul, Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) and Jesse Jackson (D) — have also lost their home states in recent years, though Jackson lost Illinois in 1988 to another Illinoisan, Sen. Paul Simon.

About as often as not, a candidate’s opponents will essentially concede their home states. This happened, for example, in the Iowa caucuses in 1992 when home-state Sen. Tom Harkin (D) ran.

More recently, though, candidates’ home states have been getting more competitive.

In the 2008 presidential race, Romney won Michigan by just nine points and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) won Arizona by 12, taking less than 50 percent of the vote. Also that year, President Obama took 40 percent of the vote in Hillary Clinton’s home state of New York — still losing badly, but with a respectable showing that landed him a healthy slate of delegates.

In the general election, it’s much more common--historically speaking-- for a candidate to lose his home state It happened about a dozen times in the first half of the 20th century, but has occurred only twice since 1956 —to Al Gore in Tennessee in 2000 and George McGovern in South Dakota in 1972.

The last politician to lose his home state and win the presidency was Woodrow Wilson in 1916. If Romney wins the nomination and beats Obama in November, he would likely join Wilson in that category, given that Obama will almost certainly triumph in deep-blue Massachusetts in the general election.

In an age in which politicians are increasingly unpopular, perhaps it’s not terribly surprising to see that home state connection beginning to wane.But this 2012 GOP presidential field may set a new standard for struggling in one’s home state.

 
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