As Ohio Goes, So Goes The Nation. Sometimes.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

It has become part of political mythology that a candidate cannot win the presidency without carrying Ohio. (John F. Kennedy pulled off this feat in 1960, winning the general election even though he lost Ohio by 273,000 votes.) But can a candidate be elected president without winning his or her party's Ohio primary? History suggests that Hillary Rodham Clinton is wrong on this point.

The senator from New York made the claim in an interview with an Ohio TV station while waiting for the election results to arrive. She qualified the claim in her victory speech later in the evening, when she added the words "in recent history."


Ohio held its first primary in 1912. On the Democratic side, Ohio Gov. Judson Harmon beat New Jersey Gov. Woodrow Wilson. But Wilson won the presidency, disproving the Clinton theory of Ohio politics almost a century before she came up with it.

Fast-forward to May 1932. Favorite son George White wins the Democratic primary with the expectation that he will support former secretary of war Newton Baker, but Franklin D. Roosevelt goes on to become president.

Ohio historian (and Cleveland Plain Dealer columnist) Thomas Suddes also pointed to the May 1952 Ohio primary when the GOP at-large delegates were all pledged to Ohio Sen. Robert A. Taft. Dwight D. Eisenhower, who eventually won the presidency, was not on the ballot.

In 1960, Ohio's Democratic primary was won by a favorite son, Gov. Michael DiSalle, who eventually pledged his delegates to Kennedy after arm-twisting from the Kennedy brothers. Favorite sons also won both parties' 1964 and 1968 Ohio primaries.

In 1968, for example, Gov. James A. Rhodes controlled all 58 delegates to the GOP convention, withholding his votes until it became apparent that Richard M. Nixon would win the nomination. Rhodes later achieved a degree of notoriety by ordering the National Guard to suppress antiwar protests at Kent State in 1970.

Clinton "has taken a little bit of a liberty here," said Herb Asher, a professor of political science at Ohio State University. "Maybe what she meant to say was as far back as she can remember."


Clinton gets a point for qualifying her claim later in the evening. While she is right about the past few elections, that is a fairly meaningless statement. As to whether the qualified claim is technically correct, it all depends on how you define "recent history."

ONE PINOCCHIO: Some shading of the facts.

TWO PINOCCHIOS: Significant omissions or exaggerations.

THREE PINOCCHIOS: Significant factual errors.

FOUR PINOCCHIOS: Real whoppers.

THE GEPPETTO CHECK MARK: Statements and claims contain the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

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