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Election of 1948
Harry Truman vs. Thomas E. Dewey vs. Strom Thurmond vs. Henry Wallace
President Harry S. Truman, who had succeeded President Roosevelt after his death in 1945, stood for reelection on the Democratic ticket with Alben Barkley of Kentucky as his running mate. When the Democratic convention adopted a strong civil rights plank, southern delegates walked out and formed the States' Rights party. The Dixiecrats, as they were called, nominated Governor Strom Thurmond of South Carolina for president and Fielding Wright for vice president. A new left-leaning Progressive party nominated former vice president Henry A. Wallace of Iowa for president with Glen Taylor, a senator from Idaho, as his running mate. The Republican slate consisted of two prominent governors: Thomas E. Dewey of New York and Earl Warren of California.
Although polls and conventional wisdom predicted a Dewey victory, Truman campaigned vigorously as the underdog, making a famous whistle-stop tour of the country aboard a special train. Results were uncertain to the last minute. A well-known photograph shows Truman the day after the election smiling broadly and holding aloft a newspaper with the headline dewey wins! The paper was wrong: Truman had received 24,105,812 popular votes, or 49.5 percent of the total; Dewey, 21,970,065, or 45.1 percent. Thurmond and Wallace each received about 1.2 million votes. The Democratic victory in the electoral college was more substantial: Truman beat Dewey 303 to 189; Thurmond received 39 votes, and Wallace none.
Election of 1952
Dwight D. Eisenhower vs. Adlai E. Stevenson
When President Harry S. Truman declined to run for a third term, the Democratic convention nominated Governor Adlai E. Stevenson of Illinois for president on the third ballot. Senator John Sparkman of Alabama was chosen as his running mate.
The Republican fight for the nomination was a conflict between the isolationists, represented by Senator Robert Taft of Ohio, and the more liberal internationalists, who backed World War II general Dwight D. Eisenhower, then president of Columbia University. Eisenhower won the nomination. Richard M. Nixon, an anticommunist senator from California, was the vice-presidential candidate.
Popular discontent with Truman's handling of the Korean War, charges of corruption in his administration, an inflationary economy, and a perceived communist threat worked against Stevenson. He was also confronted with Eisenhower's immense personal popularity--i like ike! the campaign buttons proclaimed--and the voters' belief that he would swiftly end the war. A scandal regarding Nixon's campaign fund threatened briefly to cost him his place on the ticket. But an emotional speech he delivered on television featuring his wife's "good Republican cloth coat" and his dog, Checkers, saved him.
Eisenhower's victory was the largest of any candidate's to that time: he received 33,936,234 popular votes and 442 electoral votes to Stevenson's 27,314,992 popular votes and 89 electoral votes.
Election of 1956
Dwight D. Eisenhower vs. Adlai E. Stevenson
Despite suffering a heart attack and abdominal surgery during his first term, President Dwight D. Eisenhower was nominated by the Republicans for a second term without opposition. Although Richard M. Nixon had been a controversial vice president and many Republicans felt he was a liability, he was also renominated. For the second time the Democrats chose former governor Adlai E. Stevenson of Illinois; his running mate was Estes Kefauver of Tennessee.
Foreign policy dominated the campaign. Eisenhower claimed responsibility for the country's being prosperous and at peace; Stevenson proposed ending the draft and halting nuclear testing. The Suez Canal crisis, occurring in the final weeks of the campaign, created a sense of emergency, and the country responded by voting strongly against change.
Eisenhower won with 35,590,472 votes to Stevenson's 26,022,752. His margin was 457 to 73 in the electoral college.
Election of 1960
John F. Kennedy vs. Richard M. Nixon
In 1960 the Democratic party nominated John F. Kennedy, a senator from Massachusetts, for president. Senator Lyndon B. Johnson of Texas was his running mate. The Republicans nominated Vice President Richard M. Nixon to succeed Dwight D. Eisenhower, who was prohibited from running for a third term by the recently adopted Twenty-second Amendment. The Republican nominee for vice president was Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr., of Massachusetts.
Although much of the campaign centered on style rather than substance, Kennedy stressed what he claimed was a "missile gap" between the United States and the Soviet Union. Kennedy was Catholic, and though religion was not a major issue, it had considerable influence on many voters.
Kennedy won the presidency by a popular margin of less than 120,000, receiving 34,227,096 votes to Nixon's 34,107,646. The race was not as close in the electoral college where Kennedy got 303 votes to Nixon's 219. Kennedy was the first Catholic and the youngest person to be elected president.
Election of 1964
Lyndon B. Johnson vs. Barry Goldwater
The Democrats nominated Lyndon B. Johnson who had succeeded to the presidency upon the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Johnson, the first president from the South since Andrew Johnson, had been Democratic leader of the Senate. Senator Hubert H. Humphrey of Minnesota, a longtime liberal, was nominated as Johnson's running mate. The Republicans chose Senator Barry Goldwater of Arizona for president and Congressman William E. Miller of New York for vice president.
In the campaign, conducted in the midst of the escalating Vietnam War, Goldwater, an ultraconservative, called for the bombing of North Vietnam and implied that the Social Security system should be dismantled. President Johnson campaigned on a platform of social reform that would incorporate Kennedy's New Frontier proposals. Despite the country's deepening involvement in Vietnam, the president also campaigned as the candidate of peace against the militaristic Goldwater.
Johnson won a decisive victory, polling 43,128,958 popular votes to 27,176,873 for Goldwater. In the electoral college he received 486 votes to Goldwater's 52.
Election of 1968
Richard M. Nixon vs. Hubert Humphrey vs. George Wallace
The Vietnam War, the civil rights movement, and protests tied to both combined in a tumultuous year to cause a tight, unusual election closely linked to these issues. Opposition to the war moved Senator Eugene McCarthy of Minnesota to enter the Democratic race, followed by Senator Robert F. Kennedy of New York, both with strong support from liberal constituencies. On March 31, 1968, in the wake of the Tet offensive, President Lyndon B. Johnson announced that he would not seek reelection. This prompted Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey to announce his candidacy. Kennedy won the California primary, but immediately thereafter, he was assassinated by Sirhan Sirhan.
Humphrey then pulled ahead and was nominated for president, with Senator Edmund Muskie of Maine for vice president. The party convention in Chicago was marred by bloody clashes between antiwar protesters and the local police. In comparison, the Republican race was less complicated. Former vice president Richard M. Nixon completed his political comeback by winning the presidential nomination. He chose Governor Spiro Agnew of Maryland as his running mate. The conservative American Independent party nominated Governor George Wallace of Alabama, a segregationist, for president, and Air Force general Curtis LeMay of Ohio, who advocated using nuclear weapons in Vietnam, for vice president.
Nixon campaigned for law and order and said he had a "secret plan" to end the war. Wallace was highly critical of Supreme Court decisions that had broadened the Bill of Rights and of Great Society programs to rebuild the inner cities and enforce civil rights for blacks. Humphrey supported most of Johnson's policies, but late in the campaign he announced he would seek to end American involvement in Vietnam. It was not quite enough to overcome Nixon's lead in the polls. Nixon received 31,710,470 popular votes to 30,898,055 for Humphrey and 9,466,167 for Wallace. Nixon's victory in the electoral college was wider: 302 to 191 for Humphrey and 46 for Wallace, the latter from the South.
Election of 1972
Richard M. Nixon vs. George McGovern
In 1972 the Republicans nominated President Richard M. Nixon and Vice President Spiro Agnew. The Democrats, still split over the war in Vietnam, chose a presidential candidate of liberal persuasion, Senator George McGovern of South Dakota. Senator Thomas F. Eagleton of Missouri was the vice-presidential choice, but after it was revealed that he had once received electric shock and other psychiatric treatments, he resigned from the ticket. McGovern named Sargent Shriver, director of the Peace Corps, as his replacement.
The campaign focused on the prospect of peace in Vietnam and an upsurge in the economy. Unemployment had leveled off and the inflation rate was declining. Two weeks before the November election, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger predicted inaccurately that the war in Vietnam would soon be over. During the campaign, a break-in occurred at Democratic National Headquarters in the Watergate complex in Washington, D.C., but it had little impact until after the election.
The campaign ended in one of the greatest landslides in the nation's history. Nixon's popular vote was 47,169,911 to McGovern's 29,170,383, and the Republican victory in the electoral college was even more lopsided--520 to 17. Only Massachusetts gave its votes to McGovern.
Election of 1976
Jimmy Carter vs. Gerald Ford
In 1976 the Democratic party nominated former governor Jimmy Carter of Georgia for president and Senator Walter Mondale of Minnesota for vice president. The Republicans chose President Gerald Ford and Senator Robert Dole of Kansas. Richard M. Nixon had appointed Ford, a congressman from Michigan, as vice president to replace Spiro Agnew, who had resigned amid charges of corruption. Ford became president when Nixon resigned after the House Judiciary Committee voted three articles of impeachment because of his involvement in an attempted cover-up of the politically inspired Watergate break-in.
In the campaign, Carter ran as an outsider, independent of Washington, which was now in disrepute. Ford tried to justify his pardoning Nixon for any crimes he might have committed during the cover-up, as well as to overcome the disgrace many thought the Republicans had brought to the presidency.
Carter and Mondale won a narrow victory, 40,828,587 popular votes to 39,147,613 and 297 electoral votes to 241. The Democratic victory ended eight years of divided government; the party now controlled both the White House and Congress.
Election of 1980
Ronald Reagan vs. Jimmy Carter vs. John B. Anderson
In 1980 President Jimmy Carter was opposed for the Democratic nomination by Senator Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts in ten primaries. But Carter easily won the nomination at the Democratic convention. The party also renominated Walter Mondale for vice president.
Ronald Reagan, former governor of California, received the Republican nomination, and his chief challenger, George Bush, became the vice-presidential nominee. Representative John B. Anderson of Illinois, who had also sought the nomination, ran as an independent with Patrick J. Lucey, former Democratic governor of Wisconsin, as his running mate.
The two major issues of the campaign were the economy and the Iranian hostage crisis. President Carter seemed unable to control inflation and had not succeeded in obtaining the release of American hostages in Tehran before the election.
Reagan won a landslide victory, and Republicans also gained control of the Senate for the first time in twenty-five years. Reagan received 43,904,153 popular votes in the election, and Carter, 35,483,883. Reagan won 489 votes in the electoral college to Carter's 49. John Anderson won no electoral votes, but got 5,720,060 popular votes.
Election of 1984
Ronald Reagan vs. Walter Mondale
In 1984 the Republicans renominated Ronald Reagan and George Bush. Former vice president Walter Mondale was the Democratic choice, having turned aside challenges from Senator Gary Hart of Colorado and the Reverend Jesse Jackson. Jackson, an African-American, sought to move the party to the left. Mondale chose Representative Geraldine Ferraro of New York for his running mate. This was the first time a major party nominated a woman for one of the top offices.
Peace and prosperity, despite massive budget deficits, ensured Reagan's victory. Gary Hart had portrayed Mondale as a candidate of the "special interests," and the Republicans did so as well. Ferraro's nomination did not overcome a perceived gender gap--56 percent of the women voting chose Reagan.
Reagan won a decisive victory, carrying all states except Minnesota, Mondale's home state, and the District of Columbia. He received 54,455,074 popular votes to Mondale's total of 37,577,185. In the electoral college the count was Reagan, 525, and Mondale, 13.
Election of 1988
George H.W. Bush vs. Michael Dukakis
Although Vice President George Bush faced some opposition in the primaries from Senator Robert Dole of Kansas in 1988, he won the Republican nomination by acclamation. He chose Senator Dan Quayle of Indiana as his running mate. The Democrats nominated Michael Dukakis, governor of Massachusetts, for president and Senator Lloyd Bentsen of Texas for vice president. Dukakis had faced strong competition in the primaries, including the Reverend Jesse Jackson and Senator Gary Hart of Colorado. Hart withdrew from the race following revelations about an extramarital affair, and party regulars and political pundits perceived Jackson, a liberal and an African-American, as unlikely to win the general election.
Once again the Republicans were in the enviable situation of running during a time of relative tranquillity and economic stability. After a campaign featuring controversial television ads, Bush and Quayle won 48,886,097 popular votes to 41,809,074 for Dukakis and Bentsen and carried the electoral college, 426 to 111.
Election of 1992
Bill Clinton vs. George H.W. Bush vs. H. Ross Perot
In 1991 incumbent President George H. W. Bush's approval ratings reached 88 percent, the highest in presidential history up to that point. But by 1992, his ratings had sunk, and Bush became the fourth sitting U.S. president to lose re-election.
In the summer of 1992 Ross Perot led the polls with 39 percent of voter support. Although Perot came in a distant third, he was still the most successful third-party candidate since Theodore Roosevelt in 1912.
Popular Vote: 44,908,254 (Clinton) to 39,102,343 (Bush)
Electoral College: 370 (Clinton) to 168 (Bush)
Election of 1996
Bill Clinton vs. Robert Dole vs. H. Ross Perot vs. Ralph Nader
Although Clinton won a decisive victory, he carried a mere four Southern states, signaling a decline in Southern support for Democrats who historically could count on the area as an electoral stronghold. Later, in the elections of 2000 and 2004, Democrats did not carry a single Southern state.
The 1996 election was the most lavishly funded up to that point. The combined amount spent by the two major parties for all federal candidates topped $2 billion, which was 33 percent more than what was spent in 1992.
During this election the Democratic National Committee was accused of accepting donations from Chinese contributors. Non-American citizens are forbidden by law from donating to U.S. politicians, and 17 people were later convicted for the activity.
Popular Vote: 45,590,703 (Clinton) to 37,816,307 (Dole)
Electoral College: 379 (Clinton) to 159 (Dole)
Election of 2000
George W. Bush vs. Al Gore vs. Ralph Nader
The 2000 election was the fourth election in U.S. history in which the winner of the electoral votes did not carry the popular vote. It was the first such election since 1888, when Benjamin Harris became president after winning more electoral votes but losing the popular vote to Grover Cleveland.
Gore conceded on election night but retracted his concession the next day when he learned that the vote in Florida was too close to call. Florida began a recount, but the U.S. Supreme Court eventually ruled the recount unconstitutional.
Political activist Ralph Nader ran on the Green Party ticket and captured 2.7 percent of the vote.
Popular Vote: 50,996,582 (Gore) to 50,465,062 (Bush)
Electoral College: 271 (Bush) to 266 (Gore)
Election of 2004
George W. Bush vs. John Kerry
Total voter turnout for the 2004 presidential election numbered at about 120 million, an impressive 15 million increase from the 2000 vote.
After the bitterly contested election of 2000, many were poised for a similar election battle in 2004. Although there were reported irregularities in Ohio, a recount confirmed the original vote counts with nominal differences that did not affect the final outcome.
Former Vermont governor Howard Dean was the expected Democratic candidate but lost support during the primaries. There was speculation that he sealed his fate when he let out a deep, guttural yell in front of a rally of supporters, which became known as the "I Have a Scream" speech, because it was delivered on Martin Luther King Day.
Popular Vote: 60,693,281 (Bush) to 57,355,978 (Kerry)
Electoral College: 286 (Bush) to 251 (Kerry)
Election of 2008
Barack Obama vs. John McCain
In this historic election, Barack Obama became the first African-American to become president.
With the Obama/Biden win, Biden became the first-ever Roman Catholic vice president.
Had the McCain/Palin ticket won, John McCain would have been the oldest president in history, and Sarah Palin would have been the first woman vice president.
Popular Vote: 69,297,997 (Obama) to 59,597,520 (McCain)
Electoral College: 365 (Obama) to 173 (McCain)
The Reader's Companion to American History. Eric Foner and John A. Garraty, Editors. Copyright © 1991 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
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