The 2012 Iowa caucuses and the 10 closest races in history
By Aaron Blake,
Were the Iowa caucuses on Tuesday night the closest major race in modern U.S. political history? No. But they were damn close.
A review of the closest contests on the books shows the 8-vote margin for Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney in Iowa was the third-closest (in terms of actual votes) in modern history — behind only a Senate race in New Hampshire and a congressional race in Indiana.
And according to the best data we could find, the 0.0065 percent margin of victory for Romney was the fourth-smallest margin, by percentage.
Below is a recap of the 10 closest major races we could find (chosen by percentage of the total votes cast, but ordered by raw vote margin).
What did we miss? The comments section awaits.
1. 1974 New Hampshire Senate: 2 votes
After a few recounts, Republican Louis Wyman led Democrat John Durkin by two votes out of more than 223,000 cast. But the Senate declared the seat vacant and called for a re-vote, which Durkin won by a considerably larger 27,000-vote margin. (A re-vote, by the way, is a political junkie’s dream come true.)
2. 1984 Indiana 8th congressional district: 4 votes
Then-freshman Rep. Frank McCloskey (D-Ind.) defeated Republican challenger Rick McIntyre by four votes. That was after a series of recounts, Republican attempts to seat McIntyre, a party-line vote verifying the final result, and Republicans walking out of the U.S. House chamber in protest. Some cite the controversy for Newt Gingrich’s political rise. Amazing.
3. 2012 Iowa caucuses: 8 votes
We all just lived through this one.
4. 1994 Connecticut 2nd congressional district: 21 votes and 83 votes
As Democrats were losing the House, seven-term Rep. Sam Gejdenson (D-Conn.) nearly fell victim to the bloodbath. He eventually emerged victorious by 21 votes (out of 186,000 cast) after two recounts. And then his successor, Republican Rob Simmons, lost the seat in 2006 by just 83 votes after a recount. That means this district has housed two of the three House elections decided by fewer than 100 votes in recent decades.
5. 1948 Texas Democratic Senate primary runoff : 87 votes
How different might history be if 200 votes hadn’t mysteriously appeared in Jim Wells County in 1948? The votes made all the difference for then-Rep. Lyndon Johnson in his win over Gov. Coke Stevenson in the state’s Senate primary runoff and set in motion the national political career of a man who would redefine the United States Senate and later become president. That 1948 race – not his actual landslide presidential win in 1964 – is where LBJ got the tongue-in-cheek nickname “Landslide Lyndon.” (Good recap of the controversial election here.)
6. 2004 Washington governor: 133 votes
Republican Dino Rossi led after the initial count and the first recount, but Democrat Christine Gregoire emerged with a 133-vote win (out of 2.8 million cast) after the second recount. Rossi tried again in 2008 and lost by nearly 200,000 votes.
7. 2008 Minnesota Senate: 312 votes
The recount process lasted nearly eight months, in large part because a win by Democrat Al Franken was set to give Democrats a filibuster-proof 60-vote margin in the Senate. The margin at one point in the process was just two votes, but Franken’s final margin of victory over then-Sen. Norm Coleman (R) was 312 votes out of nearly 2.9 million cast. Democrats held 60 votes in the Senate only briefly, before Ted Kennedy died and Republican Scott Brown won a special election to replace him.
8. 2005 Virginia attorney general: 360 votes
Before now-Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) beat state Sen. Creigh Deeds (D) in the 2009 governor’s race, he beat him in the 2005 attorney general’s race – barely. A recount revealed McDonnell bested Deeds by 360 votes out of nearly 2 million cast.
9. 2000 Presidential race in Florida/New Mexico: 537 votes and 366 votes
Think Florida was the only state that was decided in 2000 by a razor-thin margin? Think again. While the George W. Bush won the Sunshine State by a mere 537 votes, he lost New Mexico to Al Gore by an even-smaller vote margin: 366 votes.
10. 1884 presidential election in New York: 1,149 votes
Before Florida in 2000 came New York in 1884. Home-state Gov. Grover Cleveland’s (D) 1,149-vote victory over Republican James Blaine in New York secured Cleveland 36 electoral votes — enough to deliver his first term as president. He also won the popular vote nationwide by about 25,000 votes – just more than a quarter of 1 percent.