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The Life of Reagan
Political Junkie
Send your questions about campaigns and elections.

By Ken Rudin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Friday, February 9, 2001

Question: On Tuesday (Feb. 6), Ronald Reagan became the third former president to reach the age of 90, joining Herbert Hoover and John Adams. I know that both Presidents Hoover and Adams died when they were 90, although I do not know how long they lived after their birthdays.
Reagan, who turned 90 on Feb. 6, remains a much beloved figure in the GOP. (Collection of Ken Rudin)
Not to sound morbid, but how much longer would Reagan have to live to become the oldest living former president? Which president lived the longest after leaving office? – Scott Miller, Folsom, Calif.

Answer: Adams died on July 4, 1826, at the age of 90 years and 247 days. Hoover died on Oct. 20, 1964, at the age of 90 years and 71 days. For Reagan to become the oldest living former president, he would have to still be alive past Oct. 11, 2001. Hoover lived the longest after leaving office. His death came 31 years and 231 days after ceding the presidency to Franklin Roosevelt in 1933.

Question: I have three questions for you. First, with President George W. Bush recently taking office, we now have five living former presidents and six living former first ladies. Is this a record number? Second, since John Coolidge, son of our 30th president, died last year at age 93, who is now the oldest living child of a former president? And finally, we know that two sons of former presidents have later gone on to become president themselves (Bush and John Quincy Adams). Has any daughter of a president sought elective office? – Daryl Cochrane, New York, N.Y.

Answer: Iíll try to tackle them one at a time:

(1) Yes, there are five living former presidents – Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush, Ronald Reagan, Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford – but that has happened before. When Clinton was inaugurated in 1993, there also were five living ex-presidents (Bush, Reagan, Carter, Ford and Richard Nixon). And in 1861, after Abraham Lincolnís swearing in, there also were five (James Buchanan, Franklin Pierce, Millard Fillmore, John Tyler, and Martin Van Buren). By the way, between the period of Jan. 22, 1973, when Lyndon Johnson died, and Aug. 9, 1974, when Nixon resigned, there was no living former president.

(2) As for the living former first ladies, there are, as you note, six: Hillary Clinton, Barbara Bush, Nancy Reagan, Rosalynn Carter, Betty Ford and Lady Bird Johnson. I donít know what the record is, but there were seven living former first ladies as late as June 1993
Maureen Reagan's pedigree was of no help in two California campaigns. (Collection of Ken Rudin)
(Bush, Reagan, Carter, Ford, Johnson, Pat Nixon and Jacqueline Kennedy).

(3) The oldest living child of a former president is John Sheldon Doud Eisenhower, who turns 78 on Aug. 3.

(4) Maureen Reagan twice ran unsuccessfully for office. She sought the Republican Senate nomination from California in 1982, finishing fifth in the primary that was won by San Diego Mayor Pete Wilson. Ten years later she sought the GOP nomination in the newly created 36th congressional district, losing the primary for a seat ultimately won by Democrat Jane Harmon.

Question: How many times in our country's history have either the Republican or Democratic parties controlled both the executive and legislative branches, and for how long? – Margarita D. Santos, Washington, D.C.

Answer: With George W. Bushís victory, the Republicans now control the White House and both houses of Congress. The last time the GOP accomplished that feat was following the 1952 elections and Dwight Eisenhowerís first triumph; the party lost both the House and Senate two years later. Their longest period of control since Reconstruction was the 14 years between the elections of 1896 and 1910. They also held it for a decade between the 1920 and 1930 elections, and for two years between the elections of 1888 and 1890.

Democrats also controlled the presidency and Congress for a 14-year period, between the elections of 1932, which ushered in FDR and his New Deal, and 1946, when Republicans won the House and Senate. Dems also held the executive and legislative branches between the elections of 1992 and 1994; 1976 and 1980; 1960 and 1968; 1948 and 1952; 1912 and 1916; and 1892 and 1894.

Question: Lately there has been a lot of talk about the Austrian-born actor Arnold Schwarzenegger running for governor of California. Is this legally possible? Would he have to give up his Austrian nationality to run? Does one have to be born in California to be elected governor? And besides Ronald Reagan, are there any other good examples of show-business personalities winning high office in America? I can only think of the former mayor of Carmel, Clint Eastwood. By the way, here in Taiwan, a popular singer from the 1980s, Yeh Hsien-hsiu, has been elected twice to the legislature. – Jason Blatt, Taipei, Taiwan

Murphy was just one of several entertainers who have been elected to office. (Collection of Ken Rudin)

Answer: I donít know if Schwarzenegger could ever terminate his Austrian nationality, but he did become a U.S. citizen in 1983. As for having to be born in California to serve as its governor, I donít believe any state has that requirement. In any event, Gray Davis, the current governor, as well as previous occupants such as Reagan and Pete Wilson, were born elsewhere. Schwarzenegger could not, of course, run for president, not being a natural-born citizen.

If Schwarzenegger were to run for governor, and ultimately defeat Davis in 2002, he and Reagan would hardly be the only show-business personalities to be elected to office. In California alone, former actor and song-and-dance man George Murphy (R) won a Senate seat in 1964, singer Sonny Bono (R) served in the House from 1995 until he died in a 1998 skiing accident, and the late actress Helen Gahagan Douglas (D) held a congressional seat until she gave it up in 1950 for an unsuccessful Senate bid against Richard Nixon. Elsewhere, Fred Grandy went from "The Love Boat" to Congress as an Iowa Republican, and Ben Jones parlayed a stint on "The Dukes of Hazzard" to a congressional seat from Georgia. And then thereís Jesse Ventura in Minnesota ... unless you donít think wrestling is show business.

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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