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    Political Junkie
    Send your questions about campaigns and elections.
    On Throwing the Election Into the House

    By Ken Rudin
    Special to
    Friday, October 29, 1999

    Question: With the possibility of a strong third-party candidate in the presidential election, what would have to happen with regard to the Electoral College in order to have the election thrown into the House of Representatives? – David Zeta Constantine, New Orleans, La.

    19 million votes, but no electoral votes, in 1992.

    Answer: As you know, the number of members in each state's congressional delegation determines its electoral votes. For example, Louisiana, with seven House members and two senators, has nine electoral votes. A candidate who carries a state wins all of its electoral votes (except in Maine and Nebraska, where votes are divided according to congressional district). Since there are a total of 538 electoral votes, a candidate must win at least 270 – a majority – to become president. With three or more candidates seeking the presidency, it is possible that no candidate would win a majority and the election would be thrown into the House.

    It seems that every time a strong third-party or independent presidential candidate emerges, speculation swirls about the House deciding the election. George Wallace already had a list of demands prepared for the two major-party candidates had the election gone to the House in 1968. Constitutional experts came out of mothballs in 1980 when John Anderson looked like a possible factor. And when Ross Perot initially pulled out of the race in July 1992, he said it was because he didn't want the election going to the House. But as we've seen, at least this century, the presence of third (or fourth) candidates has never affected the contests in such a way. The hoopla these candidates generate in the early stages of their bids often dissipates by Election Day. Some examples of would-be spoilers:

    Year 3rd-Party Candidate % of Vote Electoral Votes (States Carried) Winner's Electoral Votes
    1912 Theodore Roosevelt 27.4 88 (6) Wilson 435
    1924 Robert La Follette 16.6 13 (1) Coolidge 382
    1948 Strom Thurmond 2.4 39 (4) Truman 303
      Henry Wallace 2.4 0 (0) "
    1968 George Wallace 13.5 46 (5) Nixon 301
    1980 John Anderson 6.6 0 (0) Reagan 489
    1992 Ross Perot 18.9 0 (0) Clinton 370
    1996 Ross Perot 8.4 0 (0) Clinton 379

    Question: The duties of the Electoral College are spelled out in Article II of the Constitution and in the 12th Amendment, but the term – Electoral College – isn't in either place. Whence does it come? – Ted Couch, Englewood, Colo.

    Answer: Not clear. Some historians have suggested that the term indeed was used, informally, at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in 1787. Others point to the early 1800s. Edward Corwin, in "The President: Office and Powers," wrote that the term Electoral College wasn't "officially" used until 1845.

    Question: In a recent "Today Show" interview, former Massachusetts Governor William Weld said that he is considering a run for governor of New York in six and a half years. Has anyone ever served as governor from more than one state? – Bethany Livstone, New York, N.Y.

    Answer: Mark Bernkopf of Arlington, Va., a regular reader of this column, says – and the National Governors Association confirms – that Sam Houston is the only person to serve as governor in two different states. Houston served as governor of Tennessee from 1827-29 and governor of Texas from 1859-61, when he was deposed because he refused to take an oath swearing allegiance to the Confederacy.

    Question: Lots of sports heroes have gone into politics in recent years, such as Bill Bradley and Jack Kemp. But did the late Marion Motley, a star fullback for the Cleveland Browns, ever run for public office? Someone with that name ran for the Ohio legislature in the 1956 and 1960 Democratic primaries. Was he the same person? – Daniel Fox, Columbus, Ohio

    Answer: Yes. Motley, the Hall of Famer who died in June, ran and lost both times. He later served as Stark County Commissioner, in northeast Ohio. In that capacity, he represented Canton – which, ironically, is where the Football Hall of Fame is located.

    Straus was also a third-party gubernatorial candidate in New York in 1912. (Collection of Ken Rudin)

    Post Script: Last week [see Oct. 22 column] a question came in about "famous" Jewish Republicans in history, and I offered a list off the top of my head. Marshall Solomon of West Bloomfield, Mich., has some more:

    Oscar Straus, Secretary of Commerce under President Theodore Roosevelt, and the first Jewish Cabinet member;
    Henry Kissinger, Secretary of State under President Richard Nixon;
    Bill Gradison, Ohio congressman, 1975-93;
    Bill Green, New York congressman, 1978-93; and
    Ken Kramer, Colorado congressman, 1979-87.

    Solomon also wondered if Benjamin Cardozo, the Supreme Court Justice appointed by President Herbert Hoover, was a Republican, but he was not. Cardozo's father was a Tammany Hall judge caught in the Boss Tweed scandal, and Cardozo himself was elected to the New York Supreme Court as an anti-Tammany Hall Democrat in 1914. He was later appointed to the state Court of Appeals by Gov. Martin Glynn (D) and was the choice of another Democrat, Sen. Robert F. Wagner Sr., to succeed Oliver Wendell Holmes on the Supreme Court in 1932.

    Got a question? Ask Ken Rudin:

    Ken Rudin, political editor at National Public Radio, is also the creator of's ScuttleButton contest.

    © Copyright 1999 Ken Rudin

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