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    Send your questions about campaigns and elections.
    Gore 2000: Read It and Veep

    By Ken Rudin
    Special to
    Friday, August 7, 1998

    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.")

    Like Martin Van Buren, the last sitting vice president to win the top office, George Bush lost his bid for a second term. (Collection of Ken Rudin)
    Nine of the 14 vice presidents who succeeded to the presidency took office unexpectedly, either through an incumbent's death or, in Gerald Ford's case, a resignation. In the old days, a candidate chose his running mate not for his ability to serve if the unthinkable happened, but for his geographic location or other ticket-balancing criteria. In fact, not one of the four men who moved up following an incumbent's death in the 19th century even won his party's nomination to run for president in the next election. Fate elevated them to the presidency, but it didn't oblige the public to see them as leaders.

    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.

    Chart: Vice presidents who became president, how they got there and what happened next.
    For Gore to succeed in 2000, the country would have to extend the Democrats' mandate beyond eight years. This, more than being vice president, may be Gore's toughest hurdle. Only once since World War II has one party won three straight presidential elections – in 1980 through 1988, when voters elected Republicans Ronald Reagan twice and George Bush once.

    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.

    Gore's prospects as vice president are better than they were when he ran as a sitting senator in 1988. (Collection of Ken Rudin)
    Gore may have a tough road ahead, but when it comes to securing the nomination, he may have a leg up on his Democratic opposition. Since 1952, every sitting vice president who sought his party's brass ring won it: Nixon in '60, Hubert Humphrey in '68, and Bush in '88.

    The odds weren't as good earlier in the century:

    • In 1920, Vice President Thomas Marshall hoped to receive Woodrow Wilson's blessing as his successor. But Wilson, while studiously neutral, was not about to endorse Marshall at the expense of William McAdoo, another candidate who was Wilson's son-in-law.

    • When President Calvin Coolidge announced that he did not "choose to run" again in 1928, Vice President Charles Dawes hoped the Republican convention would choose him. It didn't.

    • John Nance Garner was speaker of the House when tapped by Franklin D. Roosevelt to be his running mate in 1932. After eight years as vice president, Garner wanted the job himself in 1940 and publicly opposed FDR's bid for a third term. But his bid at the Democratic convention fell far short.

    • And when President Harry Truman surprisingly dropped out of the race after the 1952 New Hampshire primary, Vice President Alben Barkley made himself available for the nomination. But the party was not about to turn to Barkley, who was 74 years old and opposed by organized labor.

    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.

    Got a question? Ask Ken Rudin:

    Ken Rudin, a former editor at NPR and the Hotline, writes the "Political Graffiti" column for The Hill, a Capitol Hill weekly. He is also the creator of's ScuttleButton contest.

    © Copyright 1998 Ken Rudin

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