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Center on the American Governor > On Governors > U.S. Governors > Governors and The White House > Governors Nominated but Defeated for President

Governors Nominated but Defeated for President

by Amy Zacks
Contributor to the Center on the American Governor
(updated February 2015 by Kristoffer Shields)

 

While 17 sitting or former governors have served as President of the United States (including Presidents John Tyler and Andrew Johnson, who ascended to the White House), 23 sitting or former governors have received a party nomination but were then defeated in November. This includes:

  • 3 incumbent presidents who lost their bids for reelection:
    – Martin Van Buren* (NY) in 1840
    – Grover Cleveland (NY) in 1888
    – Jimmy Carter (GA) in 1980
  • 2 former presidents who had been out of office four or eight years:
    – Martin Van Buren* (NY)
    – Theodore Roosevelt (NY)
  • 3 governors who were unsuccessful nominees twice:
    – Martin Van Buren* (NY) in 1840 and 1848
    – Thomas Dewey (NY) in 1944 and 1948
    – Adlai Stevenson (IL) in 1952 and 1956

    *Note that Martin Van Buren, who was nominated in 1836, 1840 and
    1848, is in all three groups.

  • 1 who was elected president four years later:
    – William Henry Harrison (IN Terr)
  • 4 who lost under a different party affiliation than they had used in prior elections:
    – Martin Van Buren (NY)
    – Theodore Roosevelt (NY)
    – Strom Thurmond (SC)
    – George Wallace (AL)

Stated another way, sitting and former governors have received a party nomination and then lost the general election a total of 26 times. This includes 1848 and 1948, both years when two governors suffered this outcome; Martin Van Buren (NY) as a Free Soil candidate and Lewis Cass (MI Territory) running as the Democrat in 1848, and Thomas Dewey (NY) as the Republican nominee and Strom Thurmond (SC) running on the States’ Rights Dixiecrat ticket in 1948.

Two additional candidates who lost their bids for the presidency –DeWitt Clinton (NY) in 1812 and George McClellan (NJ) in 1864 – would later move on to be governor or their own states.

Over these 26 national defeats by 23 governors:

  • 11 occurred while the nominee was serving as his state’s governor
    (including Thomas E. Dewey (NY) twice)
  • 15 occurred after the nominee was no longer governor
    (including three who were incumbent Presidents who lost their bids for reelection: Martin Van Buren (1840), Grover Cleveland (1888), and Jimmy Carter (1980); Van Buren ran and lost again in 1848)
  • 2 served as a governor before and after running for President
    (John C. Fremont (AZ) and George Wallace (AL))
  • Of the 26 times governors received a party nomination and were then defeated for president, only three states are represented more than once:
    – New York, with 13 nominees including Martin Van Buren and Thomas Dewey twice each
    – Illinois, with two races by Adlai Stevenson
    – Massachusetts with Michael Dukakis (1988) and Mitt Romney (2012)
  • Four winning presidential candidates, including three who had been governors, defeated a governor in two elections:
    – James Madison beat NY Governors George and Dewitt Clinton
    – Woodrow Wilson (NJ) defeated Theodore Roosevelt (NY) in 1912 and Charles
    Evan Hughes (NY) in 1916
    – Franklin Roosevelt (NY) beat Alfred Landon (KN) in 1936 and Thomas Dewey
    (NY) in 1944
    – Dwight Eisenhower won over Adlai Stevenson (IL) in 1952 and 1956
  • The two governors to most recently win a presidential nomination and lose the general election were both from Massachusetts:
    – Michael Dukakis (D) lost to George H.W. Bush (1988)
    – Mitt Romney (R) lost to Barack Obama (2012)
  • The most recent victories by a governor in a presidential election were:
    – 1992 and 1996 when Bill Clinton (AR) was elected and reelected
    – 2000 and 2004 when George W. Bush (TX) was elected and reelected