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    Send your questions about campaigns and elections.
    Elizabeth the First?

    By Ken Rudin
    Special to
    Friday, January 22, 1999

    Question: Should Elizabeth Dole seek the presidency, it would be the first office she ran for. Who in our country's history has been elected president without having previously held elected office, and what did they do before being elected? – Scott Strong, Lafayette, Ind.

    A button supporting Mr. Elizabeth Dole's 1988 White House bid.
    (Collection of Ken Rudin)
    Answer: Earlier this month, Dole left the American Red Cross, where she had been president for the past eight years, reportedly to prepare a bid for the White House. The former Cabinet secretary has long been bandied about as a possible presidential contender, and some Republicans mused, after watching her performance at the 1996 convention, that the wrong Dole was running that year. Should she get into the race, she would join people like Steve Forbes, Ross Perot and Jesse Jackson, whose only bids for office were for the presidency.

    Dole would face a lot of obstacles in a campaign, not the least of which would be the need to shed what some call her programmed persona, and show a bit of spontaneity. But she is popular with both the religious and establishment wings of the GOP, and would clearly help a party that has its troubles with female voters.

    The last person whose election as president marked his first bid for office was Dwight Eisenhower, the supreme commander of NATO forces in Europe, who was elected president in 1952 and 1956. The others were:

    • Herbert Hoover (R), secretary of commerce, elected in 1928;
    • William Howard Taft (R), secretary of war, elected in 1908;
    • Ulysses Grant (R), Union Army commander, secretary of war, elected in 1868; and
    • Zachary Taylor (Whig), Mexican War hero, elected in 1848.

    One other person served as president though he never won an election in his own right. Chester Alan Arthur, who was the appointed Collector of the Port of New York, was tapped to become James Garfield's running mate at the 1880 GOP convention. Arthur became president in September of 1881 following Garfield's assassination, but failed in his bid to win his party's nomination in 1884.

    Question: Have any women ever run for president? This is for a school debate topic and I can't seem to find the answer. – Whitney Osterink, Grand Rapids, Mich.

    Maine Sen. Smith ran for the GOP nomination in 1964.
    (Collection of Ken Rudin)
    Answer: If Elizabeth Dole gets in the race, she will be joining a very select group. The last woman with national recognition who flirted with a bid for her party's nomination was then-Rep. Pat Schroeder (D-Colo.), who traveled around the country for much of 1987 before deciding she couldn't raise enough money to be a serious player.

    Ellen McCormack, an anti-abortion activist, made a symbolic run in the 1976 Democratic primaries.

    The most primary votes any woman received were the 430,000-plus won by then-Rep. Shirley Chisholm (D-N.Y.) in 1972, whose 151.95 votes at the Democratic convention that year in Miami Beach is also a record for a woman. Chisholm, the first black woman ever elected to Congress, had tried to reach out to both African-American and female voters, but never made much headway and faced strong opposition from many black (mostly male) political leaders.

    Also running for president that year was Rep. Patsy Mink (D-Haw.), who focused her campaign on the Oregon primary, but she too was a non-factor.

    The only Republican woman to run was the late Sen. Margaret Chase Smith (R-Maine), who entered the 1964 primaries. At the San Francisco convention that summer her name was placed into nomination by Vermont Sen. George Aiken, the first time that ever happened to a female candidate at a major party convention.

    Question: In your Dec. 23 column, you mentioned former Vice President Charles Dawes. Was he Native American? I seem to remember a tour guide at his home a long time ago saying he was. – Jack Stubbs, Racine, Wis.

    Answer: You're thinking of Charles Curtis, a Kansas Republican, who was Herbert Hoover's vice president and the only American Indian to hold the post. As the Senate Majority Leader, Curtis squared off against Hoover in a bitter contest for the GOP presidential nomination at the 1928 convention. Hoover won, but was forced to accept Curtis on his ticket. Their relationship during their four years in office together was often strained, and they quarreled on a whole assortment of issues, including prohibition.

    Question: In your pre-election column (Nov. 2), you mentioned that David Wu, an Oregon Democrat, was seeking to become the first Chinese-American ever elected to the House. Later, in your Nov. 25 column, a reader "corrected" you by saying that you had forgotten Patsy Mink of Hawaii. Well, Patsy TAKEMOTO Mink is Japanese-American! I've known her for years, starting when she was first elected to the House and I was a teenager in the Washington, DC, chapter of the Japanese American Citizens League, at which she was an occasional banquet speaker. – Norman P. Ishimoto, San Francisco, Calif.

    On a related note, another reader writes:

    Question: A reader in your Dec. 23 column stated that Carol Moseley-Braun's defeat will leave the Senate "all white." However, Hawaii has two Asian-American senators. A more accurate statement would be that her departure left the Senate without any African-American members. – Ken Bailey, Washington, D.C.

    Answer: You're right, of course, and I should have caught that. In addition, it should be noted that Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-Colo.) is Native-American.

    Got a question? Ask Ken Rudin:

    Ken Rudin, political editor at NPR and a former editor of the Hotline, is also the creator of's ScuttleButton contest.

    © Copyright 1999 Ken Rudin

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