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What's in a W?
Political Junkie
Send your questions about campaigns and elections.

By Ken Rudin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Friday, Sept. 8, 2000

Question: Okay, so the campaign sounds all well and good, and the issues are good too. But the real question is: What does the "W" in George W. Bush stand for? -- Megan Wills, Sydney, Australia

Answer: A ton of campaign buttons produced at both the Republican and Democratic national conventions focused on Bushís middle initial, but given the number of questions Iíve received on the topic, not many people know what it stands for. The "W" is for Walker, just as former President Bushís complete name is George Herbert Walker Bush. The name is derived from the ex-presidentís mother, Dorothy Walker, who married Prescott Sheldon Bush, the late senator from Connecticut.

Question: Why does everyone in this country, excluding me, insist on referring to Bush as "George W."? -- M.L. Warren, Farmers Branch, Texas

"W" stands for "Walker" -- but Republicans hope it means "winner." (Collection of Ken Rudin)
Answer: Part of it is to differentiate him from his Dad. Since he does not have the same exact name as his father, it would be erroneous to call him "George Bush Jr.," though he is still called that in many circles. Bush has gone by the name "George W." well before he launched his political career with an unsuccessful congressional bid in 1978. I donít know who began calling him "Dubya," but it may have been Mollie Ivins, the liberal, irreverent, and decidedly anti-Bush Texas columnist.

Question: Florida Gov. Jeb Bush is generally considered to be smarter than his older brother. If Jeb had won his first bid for governor in 1994, do you think he – rather than Dubya – would have sought the GOP nomination for president in 2000? -- David Morgenstern, Washington, D.C.

Answer: Thatís always been the assumption among political wags. There had long been reports that it was Jeb – John Ellis Bush – who was supposed to be the next leader in the Bush family dynasty. But that scenario ended on election night 1994, as Jeb lost narrowly to Florida Gov. Lawton Chiles, the same day that George W. Bush ousted Gov. Ann Richards in Texas.

Jeb ran a more conservative campaign in í94 than his big brother, focusing more on policy issues and less on the "feel good" approach employed by George W. Learning from his defeat, there was more of a softer, "compassionate conservative" approach to Jebís campaign in 1998, which he won convincingly. But by then, George W., who also won that year, was on his way to the Republican presidential nomination.

Jebís defeat, by the way, was in keeping with the Bush family tradition: losing their first bid for office. Grandpa Prescott Bush lost a 1950 Senate race in Connecticut before winning two years later. George Herbert Walker Bush was beaten by Sen. Ralph Yarborough (D-Texas) in 1964 before winning two terms in the House (and then lost another Senate race, this time to Lloyd Bentsen, in 1970). And George W. Bush, as noted in the previous question, was defeated in a 1978 congressional contest in West Texas, 16 years before he beat Ann Richards.

Question: Has a two-term president ever sought renomination after leaving office? Could Bill Clinton be the Democratic nominee in four yearsí time? -- Ian Lewis, Wirral, United Kingdom

FDR's opponents in 1940 hoped he would follow the no-third-term tradition. (Collection of Ken Rudin)
Answer: No and no. The 22nd Amendment to the Constitution, which was ratified in 1951, states that "no person shall be elected to the office of the President more than twice." Many observers saw the action as little more than a retaliatory move by a Republican Congress against a deceased Democratic president – Franklin D. Roosevelt – who was elected four times between 1932 and 1944. Since its ratification, the amendment has affected two presidents besides Clinton: Dwight D. Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan.

Prior to its ratification, only 10 men besides FDR were elected to the presidency two times: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, Andrew Jackson, Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses Grant, Grover Cleveland (non-consecutive), William McKinley and Woodrow Wilson. And none of them sought the presidency again. Washington decided against seeking a third term in 1796, a move that Jefferson purposely emulated in 1808. Both Madison and Monroe, who concluded their second terms with a split party, were not especially reluctant to retire. Jacksonís tenure was more successful but he too had no desire for a third term. Lincoln, of course, was assassinated, as was McKinley. Grant may have had ideas about running for a third term in 1876 but the scandals that enveloped his administration made that impractical; in fact, the House passed a resolution in December 1875 specifically opposing his seeking a third term. The tenure of Cleveland, the only president to have won, lost and won again in consecutive elections, was beset by labor unrest and economic woes as 1896 approached, and so he stepped down. And the stroke suffered by Wilson in 1919 made a third-term bid in 1920 all but impossible, though he did entertain thoughts of running again.

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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