We'll begin with an uncharacteristically generous assessment of politics. Imagine if you -- meaning you yourself, noble, attractive Post reader -- tried to convince people to vote for you for president. How many votes -- actual cast ballots -- do you think you could get? Ten? Twenty? If you say 100, you're either lying or already a politician.
By that standard, cobbling together 2,800 votes is a remarkable feat. You convinced thousands of people that you are the person best suited to run the country, after all! That's pretty remarkable, and congratulations.
That, however, is not the standard by which actual presidential contenders are measured. So it is with regret that we inform Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback (R) that -- according to our analysis of caucus and primary vote totals as compiled by (the great, if not terribly modern-looking) U.S. Election Atlas -- no real politician seeking his or her party's nomination has received fewer votes for his presidential candidacy in 20 years than Brownback's 2,800 in 2008.
(What is a "real politician"? We applied a two-part test. First, had I ever heard of them. Second, had Fix-master Chris Cillizza ever heard of them. Yes, James A. Vestermark got only three votes in 2012, but we all agreed that even you, humble reader, could do better than that.)
It's actually a pretty fascinating metric to consider. When it comes to total votes accrued in a single campaign, Brownback comes in 71st -- meaning that 70 other candidates actually did better in their efforts than he did since 1992. (We will note: Brownback withdrew before the primaries kicked into gear, so this shouldn't be a huge surprise.) Former Republican New Mexico governor Gary Johnson (now a Libertarian) got nearly 4,300 votes in 2012. (Again, this is caucus plus primary votes.) Former congressman Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.) got 8,500 in 2008.
But there are a few non-real politicians that did even better. Ever heard of Angus McDonald? McDonald was a farmer from West Virginia who ran three times. In 1992 he got 9,900 votes; in 2000, more than 19,000. That puts him in 54th place in terms of total votes received for any nomination in the past six cycles.
Which is another interesting metric. In terms of total votes for president in contested primaries (meaning, we didn't include votes in primaries re-nominating a sitting president), former Illinois and Maryland Senate candidate Alan Keyes (R) comes in 20th, with 1.5 million votes -- thanks to campaigns in 1996, 2000, and 2008. (He's in 20th on the list of "most votes in one race," too, thanks to the 2000 contest.) Ron Paul (R) is in 15th in total votes for his 2008 and 2012 races, by comparison.
Obviously, we've put off the most important data point: Which candidate got the most votes. The answer will surprise you, we think. The most votes for a nominee in a contested primary since 1992 is Clinton.
As in Hillary, who takes home the honor despite running in only one primary and having lost that primary.
Clinton's 18.2 million-plus primary and caucus votes edged her in front of Barack Obama's 18 million, which won't surprise anyone who could keep one eye open in 2008. In third place for total votes in one campaign was former vice president Al Gore (D); in third for total votes in all primaries since 1992 was Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). Mitt Romney came in fourth on the total votes metric, for 2008 and 2012. Bill Clinton is fifth in total votes in one campaign, with 55 percent of his wife's total.
|Rank||Who||Single election high||Total votes (cycles)|
|1||Hillary Clinton (D)||18,235,120||18,235,120 (2008)|
|2||Barack Obama (D)||18,011,877||18,011,877 (2008)|
|3||George W. Bush (R)||11,924,241||11,924,241 (2000)|
|4||Albert Gore, Jr. (D)||10,929,429||10,929,429 (2000)|
|5||William J. Clinton (D)||10,579,305||10,579,305 (1992)|
|6||Mitt Romney (R)||10,093,680||14,754,206 (2008, 2012)|
|7||John Kerry (D)||10,079,760||10,079,760 (2004)|
|8||John McCain (R)||9,902,229||16,366,441 (2000, 2008)|
|9||Robert Dole (R)||8,810,453||8,810,453 (1996)|
|10||Mike Huckabee (R)||4,265,059||4,265,059 (2008)|
|11||Jerry Brown (D)||4,091,812||4,091,812 (1992)|
|12||Rick Santorum (R)||3,946,560||3,946,560 (2012)|
|13||Paul Tsongas (D)||3,677,609||3,677,609 (1992)|
|14||John Edwards (D)||3,202,586||4,211,917 (2004, 2008)|
|15||Patrick J. Buchanan (R)||3,194,615||3,194,615 (1996)|
|16||Bill Bradley (D)||3,035,979||3,035,979 (2000)|
|17||Newt Gingrich (R)||2,741,628||2,741,628 (2012)|
|18||Ron Paul (R)||2,107,066||3,314,147 (2008, 2012)|
|19||Malcom S. Forbes (R)||1,587,311||1,587,311 (1996)|
|20||Alan Keyes (R)||1,022,806||1,553,598 (1996, 2000, 2008)|
Among likely 2016 contenders, there's a clear winner: former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee (R). Huck (is it OK if we call you "Huck"?) got 4.2 million votes in 2008 -- more than former senator John Edwards (D-N.C.) got in his two bids combined. Not too far down the list, though, is 2012's version of Huckabee, former senator Rick Santorum (R-Pa.). Then there's soon-to-be-former Texas governor Rick Perry (R), whose meager 55,000 votes puts him just 12 slots above Farmer McDonald from West Virginia.
Lots of variables are at play here, with bigger population in later years being only one of them. But for those looking to repeat the success of numbers 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9 on the list -- that is, actual nominees -- aim for a Clinton total, not a Brownback one.
Which, we repeat, is better than you could do.