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    Political Junkie
    Send your questions about campaigns and elections.
    From the People's House
    To the White House

    By Ken Rudin
    Special to
    Friday, August 14, 1998

    Question: How many presidents have gone straight from the House of Representatives to the White House? – John La Penta, Alpharetta, Ga.

    Gephardt Gingrich
    Kasich Watts
    Four members who might run in 2000 (clockwise from top-left): Gephardt, Gingrich, Watts and Kasich. (File Photos)
    Answer: Clearly the House is not a home for future presidents. Only one person has moved directly from the House to the presidency: Rep. James Garfield (R-Ohio) was chairman of the Appropriations Committee when he was elected president in 1880. Other presidents have served in the House – most recently, George Bush, Gerald Ford, Richard Nixon, Lyndon Johnson and John F. Kennedy – but none since Garfield went straight from that south side of the Capitol to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

    At least three House members are looking at the 2000 presidential race – Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), Minority Leader Richard Gephardt (D-Mo.) and Budget Committee Chairman John Kasich (R-Ohio). There has also been speculation about a bid by J.C. Watts (R-Okla.). Since 1972, only one sitting member of the House has even won a presidential primary or caucus. See chart.

    Question: In the case of Gephardt, has a House minority leader ever won the presidency or come close to winning? – Kwabena Ako-Adjei, Bethesda, Md.

    Gephardt ran for president in 1988. See how he and other candidates from the House fared. (Collection of Ken Rudin)
    Answer: Ford was minority leader when tapped by President Nixon to be vice president, and then became president eight months later. But that's as close as anyone has come. Rep. Champ Clark (D-Mo.) was minority leader in 1910, but when the Democrats won the House that year, he became speaker. Two years later he sought his party's presidential nomination, but he lost at the convention to New Jersey Gov. Woodrow Wilson.

    Question: Is James Knox Polk the only president who was also speaker of the House? And is Lyndon Johnson the only president who served as Senate majority leader? – Harold Hopp, Palm Desert, Calif.

    Answer: You are correct about both, although nobody has ever gone directly from those posts to the presidency. Polk left the House to run for governor of Tennessee, where he served one term before he was defeated for reelection. Following another unsuccessful gubernatorial bid, he was elected president in 1844.

    Johnson, of course, was vice president when John F. Kennedy was killed in 1963. As sitting majority leader, Johnson tried for the Democratic nomination in 1960 but lost to his future boss.

    LBJ and Bob Dole, the GOP nominee in 1996, are the only former majority leaders to win their party's nomination (Dole resigned from the Senate three months before he was nominated for president at the Republican convention). Other former majority leaders who tried but failed include then-Minority Leader Dole in 1988, Democrat Alben Barkley in 1952 and Republican Charles Curtis in 1928.

    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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