Freelining with Mike Freeman: Losing your home turf.

If a presidential nominee can't carry their home state, can they still expect to win in November? (Photo by Michael Freeman).

They represent a list of once prominent politicians, some still household names and others long forgotten except to political historians, covering more than a century of governing and legislating.
On the Democratic side, there’s Al Gore, the former senator from Tennessee and vice president under Bill Clinton.
Going back even further, there was George McGovern, the senator from South Dakota and hero of World War II, and Adlai Stevenson, the governor of Illinois.
Decades before that, on the Republican side, Thomas Dewey was the governor of New York and committed foe of organized crime, while Alf Landon was the governor who steered his state, Kansas, through the Great Depression.
What these political leaders have in common, as a historical footnote, is that they all ran for president, and lost. But more importantly, unlike other presidential candidates who also got rejected by the voters – such as Republican John McCain in 2008 and Democrat John Kerry in 2004 – these contenders have something else uniquely in common. All five lost the state they called home.
Usually, when a presidential candidates loses his own state, he’s gone down in a landslide, as was the case with McGovern in 1972, who lost 49 states to President Richard Nixon, or Landon in 1936, who carried only Maine and Vermont against President Franklin Roosevelt.
But not always: Gore actually carried the popular vote in 2000, while narrowly losing the electoral college vote to Texas Gov. George W. Bush. Had Gore carried Tennessee, he would have won the election.
Usually, presidential candidates can always count on one thing: their home state going their way, and easily. In 2008, Barack Obama got 62 percent in Illinois, which he had represented in the U.S. Senate, while McCain carried Arizona with 54 percent. In 2004, Kerry took Massachusetts with 62 percent while Bush swept Texas by a similar 61 percent margin. It’s called the home state advantage for a reason.
As this year’s presidential election heats up, President Obama can be expected to face a tough re-election campaign following three years of high unemployment, but there are certain solidly Democratic states that are already considered safe for the president — including Illinois.
But what’s interesting about the Republican contenders is that while two of them seem certain to carry the states they represent in November should they win their party’s nomination, at least one of them could have a difficult time winning his home state, while the fourth candidate seems virtually certain to lose his, and join the list that now includes Landon and Dewey.
To avoid the embarrassment of seeing your base go to the opposition, it actually helps to represent a state that leans decidedly in favor of your party – as was the case in 2004 with Kerry representing Massachusetts and Bush being from Texas, two states that haven’t been on the competitive list for decades.
McGovern, for example, represented South Dakota, a state that has traditionally favored Republican; he was an anomaly as an elected Democrat.
Of the four Republican presidential candidates, there’s no question that if Ron Paul gets his party’s nomination, he’ll have no trouble carrying the state where he’s now a congressman. Texas hasn’t voted for a Democratic presidential candidate since Jimmy Carter in 1976.
It’s also a safe bet that if Newt Gingrich wins the GOP nomination, he can carry the state he once represented in Congress. Georgia is slightly less solidly Republican than Texas; the state voted for Carter, its former governor, in 1976 and 1980, and for Bill Clinton in 1992, and in 2008 Obama came within a few percentage points of winning there, too. But with Gingrich at the top of the ticket, it’s unlikely the Obama team will bother targeting Georgia.
It’s harder to predict whether Rick Santorum could carry Pennsylvania. Having represented the state in Congress and the U.S. Senate, Santorum should be able to make it competitive, perhaps even clearly in his favor.
Then again, while Pennsylvania gets tagged as a swing state, in reality it hasn’t voted for a Republican presidential candidate since 1988 – 20 years of favoring the Democrats.
And Santorum lost his 2006 re-election bid in a landslide, getting just 41 percent of the vote while the Democratic candidate, Bob Casey, swept the state with 59 percent. That’s a deep hole to climb out of, and despite predictions that Pennsylvania would be close in 2008, Obama carried it easily, with 54 percent.
That leaves one other candidate and, ironically, he’s the man now presumed to be the front-runner for the GOP presidential nomination, Mitt Romney. Frankly, only the most diehard Romney supporter would be willing to argue that their man is competitive in his home state of Massachusetts. Since 1928, when the Democratic party nominated Al Smith, the first Catholic presidential candidate, Massachusetts has voted for a Republican presidential nominee exactly four times – twice for Dwight Eisenhower in the 1950s, and twice for Ronald Reagan in the 1980s. As is the case with Republicans in Texas, it seems the Democrats would have to nominate a terrorist, child pornographer or serial killer for the party to lose the Bay State.
Romney won only one election in Massachusetts, as governor in 2002, when he got less than 50 percent of the vote. The political landscape looked so grim for Republicans in 2006 that Romney didn’t even bother seeking a second term, and Democrats easily picked up the governor’s office that year.
So if Romney seems certain to lose his home state, is that a bad omen for him in November? Can he win the general election even without his home state?
History doesn’t always determine how the future will go. Prior to 2004, no sitting U.S. Senator had been elected president since John F. Kennedy in 1960, but by 2008, the three leading candidates – McCain, Obama and Hillary Clinton – were all U.S. senators, so that theory went down the tubes. And, of course, prior to Obama’s victory, American had never elected a black president. Precedents are made to be broken.
Likewise, in the past 20 years, of the six presidential elections this nation has held, Massachusetts has voted Democratic every time. Just the same, Republicans won three of those six elections. The GOP can win the election without needing the electoral votes from Massachusetts, obviously.
On the other hand, here’s an interesting historic footnote. Throughout our nation’s history, only two presidential contenders who won the general election have lost their home state. One was Democrat James Knox Polk, who lost Tennessee in 1844. The other was Democrat Woodrow Wilson, who failed to carry New Jersey in 1916.
The list of candidates who lost both their home state, and the general election, is an awful lot longer.

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