To the White House
By Ken Rudin
Question: How many presidents have gone straight from the House of Representatives to the White House? John La Penta, Alpharetta, Ga.
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.
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.
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© Copyright 1998 Ken Rudin