The GOP has been kind to repeat candidates like John McCain, but the Democratic Party has traditionally rejected second time candidates like John Edwards and Joe Biden.
Republican John McCain had party tradition on his side when he launched his second presidential campaign in 2007, but Democrats John Edwards and Joe Biden were bucking a strong tradition in their party when they made second runs at the presidency.
2000 nominee Al Gore and 2004 nominee John Kerry apparently recognized, the second time around just hasn’t been very good for Democrats seeking the presidency,
It’s been a very different story for repeat candidates in the GOP.
Nixon, Reagan, Bush Won As Repeaters
Republican nominee Richard Nixon couldn’t beat Democratic Senator Jack Kennedy in their 1960 presidential campaign, but the GOP embraced Nixon’s second run in 1968 and he went on to whip Democratic nominee Hubert Humphrey in the general election for the White House.
Former California Governor Ronald Reagan failed to win even the Republican nomination in both 1968 and 1976, but he won the GOP nomination on his third time around in 1980 and defeated former Incumbent President Jimmy Carter for the presidency.
George H. Bush (the elder one) lost his bid for the Republican nomination to Reagan in 1980, but in 1988 he collected his GOP IOUs and defeated Democratic nominee Michael Dukakis for the White House.
Note that the last three candidates to win the presidency on their second or third attempts were all Republicans, which may explain why McCain was so optimistic when he opened his second campaign for the GOP nomination in 2007.
Democrats Favor First Time Candidates
Biden and Edwards have far less Democratic Party precedent to lean on. All six 20th Century Democratic presidents–Woodrow Wilson, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry Truman, Jack Kennedy, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton–won in their first presidential campaigns. Truman had the advantage of inheriting the office upon Roosevelt’s death, but he did win reelection in his first presidential campaign, upsetting New York’s Thomas Dewey.
Democrats can also remember a celebrated two-time loser in Adlai Stevenson. He won the Democratic nomination in both 1952 and 1956 but could not defeat or unseat Dwight Eisenhower either year.
James Horvath of Michigan Lost 22 Times
But Stevenson’s loss record was nothing compared to that of James C. Horvath, a member of the Socialist Labor party in Michigan. He lost 22 campaigns for a variety of offices in the 20th Century. According to The Political Graveyard, a website that has tracked the losses and deaths of nearly 140,000 local, state and federal candidates, Horvath appeared to hold the American record for lost elections, at least through the website’s last update.
Horvath ran unsuccessfully for lieutenant governor of Michigan eight times between 1936 and 1962. Having failed on that level, he raised his sights and ran for governor four times (1964-1974), for Congress three times and for a variety of lesser positions seven times. Lost them all.
As a persistent minor party candidate, Horvath was the Ralph Nader of his day. But he had plenty of Midwestern company in the lost columns. According to The Political Graveyard, at least six other Michigan politicians have lost 16 or more elections and Ohio has produced one 20-time loser. Like Horvath, three of those seven Midwestern repeat losers represented the Socialist Labor party, two of them represented the Prohibition party and one represented the Greenback party.
Theodore Welk of Detroit apparently holds the record for losses by a Democrat. He was defeated 16 times, but along the way he did win five years in the Michigan House of Representatives and an alternate delegate spot at the 1948 Democratic National Convention.
That kind of achievement, however, is not likely to be much encouragement to Biden and Edwards.