By Ken Rudin
Question: Why are most of the vice presidents who became president defeated for a second term? Would Al Gore be a victim to this historical tidal wave? Michael Kwan, Elmhurst, N.Y.
Answer: Al Gore presumably will try to duplicate George Bush's feat of 1988 winning the presidency immediately after serving eight years as vice president. The objective is not as common as one would think. Richard Nixon tried to do it in 1960, but failed. Bush, in fact, was the first sitting vice president to win the presidency since Martin Van Buren in 1836. (Bush acknowledged that fact in his post-election press conference: "I also want to thank Martin Van Buren for paving the way. It's been a long time, Marty.")
In the 20th century, however, the trend began to shift; of the five men who succeeded to the office in mid-term, only Ford failed to win a full term.
Though now a rare occurrence, it was once pretty common for one party to win more than two successive elections. The Republicans won four in a row from 1896 through 1908, and then won another three from 1920 through 1928. But then came the Depression, which enabled the Democrats to win five straight from 1932 through 1948.
The odds weren't as good earlier in the century:
It wasn't until 1960 when the office of vice president was seen as a presidential training ground. Since then, only Spiro Agnew, who resigned his office, and Nelson Rockefeller, who was appointed, failed later to make a bid for the White House.
Former vice president Dan Quayle bypassed a presidential effort in 1996, but is widely expected to run in 2000.
Question: As for people who ran for president and served on the Supreme Court (see the July 31 column), what about Salmon P. Chase, who was Abraham Lincoln's secretary of the treasury? Patricia Biswanger, Bryn Mawr, Pa.
You are absolutely correct! Chase was a former governor of Ohio and a key anti-slavery leader when he sought the Republican presidential nomination at the 1860 convention. After he lost to Lincoln, he became U.S. senator. Lincoln later named him secretary of the treasury.
Chase's political ambitions were widely known, and his dissatisfaction with how the war was being conducted was no secret. Word leaked that Kansas Sen. Samuel Pomeroy was circulating a letter, which strategized how Chase could maneuver to get the 1864 GOP nomination. Chase was embarrassed, and his relationship with Lincoln was ruined. The episode ended his presidential hopes, and he was later forced out of the Cabinet.
With the death of Chief Justice Roger Taney, however, Lincoln needed someone on the Supreme Court who backed his views on emancipation. After his reelection, Lincoln named Chase as chief justice. Still, that didn't end Chase's presidential ambitions. He made himself available in both 1868 and 1872 to no avail. He died in 1873.
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© Copyright 1998 Ken Rudin