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Would Mitt Romney be the richest president ever?

at 02:15 PM ET, 01/25/2012

Mitt Romney is rich; this much we know.

But would he be the richest president ever?

In terms of raw dollars, yes. If you adjust for inflation, though, the answer is no.

In fact, the wealthiest president appears to have been one of the nation’s most beloved Commanders in Chief and the nation’s first president, George Washington.

Multiple studies have estimated Washington’s net worth, in today’s dollars, at more than $500 million, due in large part to his Virginia plantation at Mount Vernon being so vast and so fertile.

A 1996 book by two economists also ranked Washington among the wealthiest 100 Americans of all-time, noting that his net worth, which stood at about half a million dollars at the time of his death in 1799, would be worth about half a billion dollars today. Washington is the only president who made the “Wealthy 100” list.

Romney, whose net worth is estimated at between $190 and $250 million, just can’t compete with that. So where does he rank?

Probably either second or third, depending on whether his actual net worth is closer to $190 million or $250 million.

Thomas Jefferson, the nation’s third president, was worth an estimated $212 million, according to a study by the Web site 24/7 Wall St., so he and Romney are pretty close.

(Interesting fact: John F. Kennedy stood to inherit his father’s $1 billion fortune, but he didn’t live long enough.)

So while Romney wouldn’t be the wealthiest president, he would be the wealthiest president in more than 200 years. In fact, presidents over the course of history have gotten progressively poorer. The 24/7 Wall St. study shows each of the first eight presidents were worth at least $19 million, adjusted for inflation. Relatively speaking, Barack Obama is struggling to get by with a net worth of between $2.8 million and $11.8 million.

So, back to Romney. Given that Washington was not nominated by a party, the question is whether Romney would be the wealthiest major party presidential nominee.

The answer: probably not.

Romney is definitely not the wealthiest presidential candidate of all time. That distinction appears to belong to billionaire Ross Perot, who ran as a third-party candidate in both 1992 and 1996. Businessman Steve Forbes, who ran in the 2000 GOP primary, also has Romney beat, with a net worth of $450 million, according to a study by Wealth X.

As for major-party nominees, Romney also probably comes in behind 2004 Democratic nominee Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), whose net worth in his 2004 personal financial disclosure report was estimated at between $237 million and $312 million. (And Kerry’s wife, Theresa Heinz Kerry, is worth much more than that — as much as $1 billion.)

So unless Romney is at the very top of his estimated range and Kerry was at the very bottom of his, Kerry was wealthier at the time that he ran for president. And if you include Kerry’s wife, it’s not even close.

 
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