Vice Presidents Face Uphill Battle to Become President

Posted August 19th, 2015 at 5:00 am (UTC-4)
1 comment

Vice President Joe Biden pauses while speaking at an event in Washington, July 16, 2015. (AP Photo)

Vice President Joe Biden pauses while speaking at an event in Washington, July 16, 2015. (AP Photo)

You’d think a sitting vice president would have an advantage while running for president, particularly in a crowded field, but history suggests otherwise.


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Since 1789, a sitting vice president has won only four out of the 57 presidential elections that have been held, according to the National Constitution Center. Half of those victories were gained by two of the nation’s founding fathers: Thomas Jefferson and John Adams.

Since then, only Martin Van Buren, elected in 1836, and George H.W. Bush, elected in 1988, have been able to win the White House as sitting vice presidents. The sitting vice presidents who did not fare as well include John C. Breckinridge who lost to Abraham Lincoln (1860); Richard Nixon who lost to John F. Kennedy (1960); Hubert Humphrey who lost to Nixon (1968).

And of course Al Gore, the last sitting VP to run for president, lost the bitterly-contested 2000 election to George W. Bush — despite winning the popular vote.

Vice President Richard Nixon was ultimately elected president, but not as a sitting vice president. He left the office of vice president in 1961 and won the presidential election in 1968.

None of this is exactly encouraging news for Vice President Joe Biden who is said to be considering a run for the nation’s top office. He would face off against five other contenders including Hillary Clinton, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, former Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chaffee and former Virginia Senator Jim Webb.

Al Gore

Sitting Vice President Al Gore lost the 2000 presidential election to George W. Bush. (AP File Photo)

Historically, in American politics, if the president is not running again, the sitting vice president is pretty much a shoo-in if he decides to seek his party’s nomination.

However, it’s not a sure thing. Alben Barkley, President Harry Truman’s number two, wanted to succeed his retiring boss, but ultimately failed in his quest to capture his party’s nomination.

Barkley was 74 years old at the time and many dismissed him as too old for the job.

Biden, who is 72 now, will be 74 on election day. The oldest candidate ever elected president of the United States was Ronald Reagan, who was 73 when he won his second term in 1984.

If Biden does opt to run, history shows he will have to beat the odds to pull out a victory and win the White House.

One response to “Vice Presidents Face Uphill Battle to Become President”

  1. Mark says:

    One interesting footnote here…. there is only one person in the entire history of the United States, to have held the position of Vice President and President… and was never officially elected to either position. That person is Gerald Ford. Ford was the House Minority Speaker during Richard Nixon’s administration, when Spiro Agnew (Nixon’s Vice President in 1972) was forced to resign amidst allegations of bribery and such while serving as Governor of Maryland and Vice President. Nixon asked his aides who they thought would best replace Agnew, and overwhelmingly he was told to appoint Gerald Ford. Congress approved of Nixon’s choice, and Ford was sworn in as Vice President in October 1973. Less than a year later, as pressure on Nixon mounted over the Watergate scandal, Nixon resigned rather than face impeachment, and under the terms of the 25th Amendment, Gerald Ford was sworn in as President, the only person to have held both Vice President and President without being elected to either. Incidentally, Ford’s first act as President was to officially pardon Nixon for his alleged role in Watergate, and the pardon (the only person at the time who could do that, legally and morally) was seen by most Americans as a ‘devil’s deal’ between the two men (it wasn’t), and effectively eliminated any chance Ford may have had to run for President on is own in 1976. He lost the election to Jimmy Carter.

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