Home State Loosers

Martin Van Buren

Presidential candidates can usually count on carrying their own state. There have been notable exceptions, such as George McGovern losing South Dakota in 1972 and Alf Landon losing Kansas in 1936.

In 1840, President Van Buren, running for re-election, lost his home state of New York and the election. In 1844, James K. Polk lost his home state of Tennessee, but won the election anyway. In 1888, President Cleveland ran for re-election, and lost his home state of New York and the election to Benjamin Harrison. In 1892, the two ran again. This time Harrison lost his home state of Indiana, and the election.

In some elections, a candidate was bound to lose his home state, because both candidates were from the same state. The first of these home state contests was in 1860, when Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas, both from Illinois, ran for the White House. It was actually a four-way race, but Lincoln and Douglas were the two major candidates in terms of popular votes. Although Douglas was the runner-up in the popular vote, his votes were scattered, and he finished fourth in the Electoral College. Lincoln won Illinois, although Douglas carried neighboring Missouri, the only state from which he received all the electoral votes.

The next election with both major candidates from the same state was in 1904. President Theodore Roosevelt of New York was running for a full term of his own. Roosevelt had been elected Vice President and assumed the Presidency after the death of President William McKinley who was assassinated in 1901. Roosevelt was trying to become the first Vice President who finished the presidential term of another person to be elected President in his own right. His opponent was a lackluster judge from New York named Alton Parker. Roosevelt won the state and the election with 336 electoral votes to Parker’s 140. Parker failed to win any electoral votes outside the former slave states of the south.

In 1920, both major candidates came from Ohio, where both were statewide office holders. Republican Warren G. Harding was the U.S. Senator from Ohio. His opponent was Democrat James Cox, then the governor of Ohio. Both were popular in their home state, but Harding won the state with 58.5% of the popular vote to 38.6% for Cox. Harding went on to win the election with 404 electoral votes to 127 for Cox. Cox won only the former slave states of the south, except for Tennessee, which went for Harding.

In 1940, New York again provided both major presidential candidates. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt was running for re-election to a third term, attempting to break the two-term tradition and become the first person to serve more than two terms. His opponent was Wendell Willkie, a lifelong Democrat who had just become a Republican the year before and was now their presidential candidate. Although it was surprisingly close in New York, Roosevelt won with 51.6% of the popular vote to 48% for Willkie. Roosevelt won his third term with 449 electoral votes. Willkie won only 82. Oddly, Willkie was the one opponent that Franklin Roosevelt seemed to genuinely like.

It happened again in the next election. In 1944, Franklin Roosevelt was running for an unprecedented fourth term. This time his opponent was New York Governor Thomas Dewey. Roosevelt did better against Dewey in New York than he had against Willkie four years earlier. Roosevelt won 52.3% of the popular vote to Dewey’s 47.3%. But Roosevelt did not do as well against Dewey in the Electoral College as he had against Willkie. Roosevelt won 432 electoral votes, and Dewey won 99.

It must be hard for a politician to lose an election, and even harder to lose his own home state. But when two candidates are from the same state, it is inevitable that one of them will lose his home state.