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The Un-elected Vice Presidents
Political Junkie
Send your questions about campaigns and elections.

By Ken Rudin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Saturday, January 20, 2001

Question: I remember Vice President Spiro Agnew resigning, but what leadership position did Gerald Ford have that made him Agnew’s successor? I was wondering about this in the event Dick Cheney has health problems while in office. – Cheryl Kopp, Maple Valley, Wash.

Ford went from House member to V.P. to president in less than a year. (Collection of Ken Rudin)
Answer: The only thing Ford had that made him Agnew’s successor was that President Richard Nixon picked him. The Twenty-fifth Amendment, ratified in 1967, states, "Whenever there is a vacancy in the office of the Vice President, the President shall nominate a Vice President who shall take office upon confirmation by a majority vote of both Houses of Congress." Agnew resigned on Oct. 10, 1973, after he pleaded nolo contendere to charges of income-tax evasion, charges stemming from his acceptance of kickbacks during the time he was governor of Maryland. Democrats, who controlled both the House and Senate, said that they would not be inclined to confirm any replacement who was looking to run for president in 1976. Two days after Agnew’s resignation, Nixon named Ford, a conservative congressman from Michigan and the House minority leader since 1965. The choice was a surprising one, and was heartily greeted by his fellow Republicans.

Democrats had other issues on their minds. Eight days after the announcement of Ford came what is now known as the "Saturday Night Massacre," in which Watergate special prosecutor Archibald Cox and Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus were fired and Attorney General Elliot Richardson resigned. The future of Nixon’s presidency suddenly began to look shaky, and Congress was in no hurry to confirm Ford. But it eventually did. On Nov. 27, the Senate approved the Ford nomination by a 92-3 vote. The House followed, on Dec. 6, by a 387-35 vote. Eight months later Ford was president, following Nixon’s resignation.

Question: Your discussion of Nelson Rockefeller [see Jan. 12 column] led me to wonder why he resigned as governor of New York. I recall that there was a period between his service as governor and as vice president under Gerald Ford. – Mike Dowling, Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.

Neither Ford nor Rockefeller was elected to the office. (Collection of Ken Rudin)
Answer: Rockefeller, thwarted in three bids for the Republican presidential nomination (1960, 1964 and 1968), never lost the White House itch. Having won four terms as governor, he had nothing left to conquer in the Empire State. In December of 1973, he announced his resignation, he said, in order to devote all his attention to two national study commissions he chaired: the Commission on Critical Choices for America and the National Commission on Water Quality. He denied the move was a prelude to a fourth presidential bid, but many saw it as such. But any aspirations for the ’76 nomination came to an end when President Nixon resigned and Gerald Ford took his place. On Aug. 20, 1974, two weeks into the job, President Ford named Rockefeller as his vice president.

Question: Who were the "Watergate Babies" and why were they called that? – Jack Slevin, Minneapolis, Minn.

Answer: They were the members of the House who were elected in 1974 – the year when President Nixon’s involvement in the Watergate affair forced his resignation. The scandal was a boon to the Democratic Party, which elected 75 new members that year. Four of them still serve in the House: George Miller (Calif.), Henry Waxman (Calif.), Jim Oberstar (Minn.), and John LaFalce (N.Y.). Three others – Chris Dodd (Conn.), Tom Harkin (Iowa), and Max Baucus (Mont.) – have since moved on to the Senate. One other Democrat, California’s Norm Mineta, is now in the Bush Cabinet. Three Republicans elected to the House that year – Henry Hyde (Ill.), Charles Grassley (Iowa) and Jim Jeffords (Vt.) – remain in office as well, the latter two having graduated to the Senate.

Question: I'm puzzled about the number of electoral votes. Before 1960, the U.S. had 531 electoral votes. With the addition of Alaska and Hawaii (each with three votes in 1960), the total went to 537. By 1964, the 23rd Amendment had kicked in, giving three votes to the District of Columbia "in addition to those appointed by the states" (words of the amendment). So how come the total from 1964 onward has been 538 rather than 540 – that is, the 1964 number (537) plus three for D.C.? – Ted Couch, Englewood, Colo.

Answer: A state’s electoral votes, as you know, are determined by its total of House members and senators. Colorado, for example, has six House members and two senators, for a total of eight electoral votes. Prior to 1960, when new states were added to the union, it was usually the case that the House simply grew in size. When New Mexico and Arizona became states in 1912, House membership grew to 435 members. Congress decided after that to keep membership at 435, saying that making it larger would just make it more unwieldy. Because of the addition of Alaska and Hawaii, the House increased to 437 members between 1959 and 1963, but it was just temporary. In the reapportionment that took place prior to the 1964 election, 16 states (Alabama, Arkansas, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia) lost a combined 21 House seats. Nine states (Arizona, California, Florida, Hawaii, Maryland, Michigan, New Jersey, Ohio, and Texas) gained seats, and with the addition of D.C., that meant a gain of 22 House seats – or a net increase of one. The total number of House seats went from 437 in 1960 to 438 in 1964, resulting in the increase in electoral votes from 537 to 538.

Question: Who was the person who ran against Ted Kennedy in his first Senate race in 1962? Was the person related to someone named McCormack? – June Accornero, Concord, N.C.

Kennedy had family connections in his '62 race. Curtis said a Senate seat should be "merited, not inherited." (Collection of Ken Rudin)
Answer: Family relations were at the core of that famous campaign. But first, a little history. When John Kennedy became president in 1961, he left behind a vacant Senate seat in Massachusetts. JFK would have loved younger brother Edward Moore ("Ted") Kennedy for the job, but Ted would not reach the constitutionally eligible age of 30 until 1962. So arrangements were made for the appointment of Benjamin Smith II, the Harvard roommate of JFK, who would keep the seat warm for Ted until then. When Smith announced in ’62 that (surprise, surprise) he would not run for the post in the special election, Ted jumped in. He was not the only political relative running for the seat. George Cabot Lodge, the son of former senator Henry Cabot Lodge, was seeking the GOP nomination (against Rep. Laurence Curtis). And Democratic state Attorney General Edward McCormack, nephew of House Speaker John McCormack, also got into the race.

The primary contest between Ted Kennedy and Ed McCormack was extremely bitter. In one memorable line from their first debate, McCormack told Kennedy that if his name were Edward Moore, "your candidacy would be a joke." Kennedy, however, had the last laugh, easily winning the primary by a 73-27 percent margin.

Got a question? Ask Ken Rudin: junkie@washingtonpost.com

Ken Rudin, political editor at National Public Radio, is also the creator of washingtonpost.com's ScuttleButton contest.

© Copyright 2001 Ken Rudin

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