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Conventional Wisdom
Political Junkie
Send your questions about campaigns and elections.

By Ken Rudin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Friday, June 9, 2000

Question: How do the parties decide when to hold their nominating conventions every four years? Do the Republicans and Democrats take turns holding them first? – Carter Witt, Nagoya, Japan

Answer: The national committees generally decide to hold their conventions anywhere between mid-July and late August, but that was not always the case. Between 1872 and 1948, for example, the Republicans held their convention in June. While there may be many specific reasons why they choose certain dates, the Democrats reportedly chose to hold their 1964 and 1968 conventions to coincide with President Lyndon Johnson's birthday.

Generally, the "out" party – the party out of power – holds its convention before the "in" party. The last time that was not the case was 1908, when the Democrats (though out of power) held their convention three weeks after the GOP held theirs.

Question: During the 1952 Republican convention, Sen. Everett Dirksen (R-Ill.) pleaded with the delegates to not lead the party down the path to defeat again – or words to that effect. What were the circumstances and what were the exact words? – Bill and Linda Ramsey, Moores Hill, Ind.
It took years for Dirksen to recover from his outburst at the '52 GOP convention. (Collection of Ken Rudin)

Answer: It was one of the most dramatic moments in convention history. By 1952, Republicans were understandably frustrated. They lost four straight presidential elections to Franklin D. Roosevelt, which was bad enough. But losing to Harry Truman in 1948 when all polls said Thomas Dewey was a slam-dunk was too much for them to take. So at the 1952 GOP convention, there was considerable finger-pointing, much of it directed at Dewey, a two-time loser who lost to FDR four years before Truman defeated him.

The party was split between the conservative, isolationist wing led by Sen. Robert Taft (R-Ohio), who was affectionately known as "Mr. Republican," and the moderate, internationalist wing, who supported Gen. Dwight Eisenhower, the hero of World War II. The conservatives argued that Eisenhower would not make a better alternative than Dewey. Dewey, who ardently backed Ike, was never in good stead with the Taft wing of the party to begin with, after defeating Taft at the '48 convention. Sen. Dirksen was bitter when he nominated Taft, berating the party for its "habit" of winning conventions but losing elections. From the podium, Dirksen dramatically shook his finger at Dewey and growled, "We followed you before, and you took us down the path to defeat!" While many delegates may have agreed with Dirksen's assessment, nearly all thought the convention was not the place to air the grievance. The speech was generally regarded as the low point of Dirksen's career.

Question: In your March 10 column about the possibility of having a presidential candidate from one party and a vice-presidential candidate from another, you said it happened once: "At the 1864 Republican convention, with the nation torn by civil war, President Lincoln selected Andrew Johnson, a Tennessee Democrat, as his running mate." Didn't Lincoln actually abandon the Republican Party (as Johnson did with the Democratic Party) to join the National Union Party? I always understood that a band of Union Democrats joined with Union Republicans to elect the first-ever, and only, third-party president – ironically it being Lincoln, the father of the modern Republican Party. – Adam Schultz, Thurmont, Md.

Answer: Lincoln did not abandon the GOP for a third-party effort. The Lincoln-Johnson ticket was formed at the 1864 Republican convention. But party leaders went out of their way to drop the name "Republican" at their Baltimore gathering in order to attract the support of Democrats. The Civil War was not going especially well for the North, and Republicans decided that in order to get people to rally behind the administration's war effort, it would call the assemblage the "National Union Convention." But this was a Republican convention in all but name. Most Democrats didn't buy the call for non-partisanship, though some did. And while Lincoln never specifically urged the party to dump Vice President Hannibal Hamlin, it was clear that a War Democrat like Johnson would help Lincoln's reelection chances.

Question: What were the exact words uttered by William F. Buckley and Gore Vidal many years ago at the Democratic National Convention? My memory is that Vidal called Buckley a pro-crypto fascist. – Marty Brock, Olathe, Kan.

Answer: Your memory is pretty good. During its coverage of the 1968 Democratic convention, ABC News had Buckley and Vidal on board as analysts. As the Chicago police were battling protesters out in the streets, Buckley defended the cops, which led Vidal to call him a "pro-crypto Nazi." Buckley responded, "Now listen, you queer! Stop calling me a pro-crypto Nazi or I'll sock you in your goddamn face and you'll stay plastered."

Question: I have a question about what happens when a presidential election is thrown into the House of Representatives. I know that each state gets just one vote in this case. But how does the House resolve split delegations? If one of New Hampshire's congressmen voted for the Democratic candidate and the other voted for the Republican, then would each presidential candidate receive half a vote? Similarly, if two of Nebraska's representatives voted for the GOP candidate, while the other voted for a Democrat, would the GOP candidate get one vote, or would he get two thirds of a vote? – John Posey, Metuchen, N.J.

Answer: The election would get thrown into the House in the event that no candidate won 270 electoral votes. If that happened, each state's House delegation, as you correctly note, gets one vote. If a state delegation were evenly divided, the state would not cast a vote. In the New Hampshire hypothetical you suggest, the state would cast no vote. In the Nebraska hypothetical, the GOP candidate would receive one vote. A majority of the delegations – 26 of the 50 states – is needed to elect a president.

Question: I was shocked to learn recently that former South Carolina governor Carroll Campbell's choice for state GOP chairman was defeated and Henry McMaster reelected. How is it that this man, an extremely popular Republican, widely considered a most powerful man in Republican circles, who basically delivered South Carolina to George W. Bush during the primary, was dealt such a political blow? – Edward Wei, San Francisco, Calif.
Republicans have had their momentum stymied in South Carolina. (Collection of Ken Rudin)

Answer: Times have not been so good for the South Carolina Republican Party. They lost the governorship two years ago, and two GOP state legislators switched to the Democratic Party in April. Their 22-seat majority in the state House is now down to three seats. Fund-raising has been weak. Campbell felt that the party needed new leadership and endorsed Katon Dawson, a Columbia businessman, for the chairmanship at the state convention last month. But McMaster, backed by most of the party big names – including Sen. Strom Thurmond, Reps. Floyd Spence, Mark Sanford and Lindsey Graham and a host of others – was reelected to a fourth term by a vote of 317 to 300 1/2. Though revered as the person who brought the party to prominence, Campbell was accused of pushing his own agenda in his bid to topple McMaster. He has been rumored to be eyeing a return to the governorship, and may take on Democratic incumbent Jim Hodges in 2002.

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 2000 Ken Rudin

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