The 2008 presidential race: a rare open field

America’s first president, George Washington, did not have to run in the Iowa Caucuses (Iowa did not become a state until 1848), nor did he have to travel to Dixville Notch in northern New Hampshire to win the votes of the five to 10 people who vote at midnight on primary day.

Washington was the general who won the War of Independence (1775–1783) and as such was unanimously elected in 1789 by all 69 electors, representing 10 states; and again in 1792, when he received the unanimous vote of all 132 electoral votes cast in then 15 states. In both elections, Washington didn’t do any campaigning. In addition, Washington’s second inaugural address was only 135 words — the shortest such speech to this day.

No president since has received the unanimous vote of the Electoral College (now 539 votes), with 270 being the number needed to win on Dec. 15, 2008.

In the early days, some states elected their electors by popular vote, while others had their state Legislature choose their electors.

In the 1796 presidential election, Vice President John Adams ran as a Federalist (Washington’s party), beating the Democratic-Republican candidate Thomas Jefferson with 71 electoral votes to Jefferson’s 68 electoral votes. Jefferson became vice president simply by placing second in electoral votes, which was the process through the 1800 election.

The 1800 campaign was a repeat showdown between incumbent President Adams and Vice President Jefferson. The Adams supporters urged voters to choose “God — and a religious president” over “Jefferson … and no God.” They went on to say that if Jefferson were elected, “Murder, robbery, rape, adultery and incest will be openly taught and practiced.”

And people today complain about “negative” campaigning!

That 1800 election ended with the electors split, 73 for Jefferson, 73 for Aaron Burr, and only 65 for the sitting President Adams. Those attacks didn’t help, I guess.

The tie vote sent the decision to the U.S. House of Representatives, where Vice President Thomas Jefferson prevailed and became president. Jefferson won his second term in 1804.

Thomas Jefferson remains the only vice president to be elected president and serve a full two terms. Eisenhower’s vice president, Republican Richard Nixon, saw his second term cut short by his own criminal activities. Eight presidents have died in office (four assassinated and four by natural causes) and with Nixon’s resignation, a total of nine vice presidents have been sworn in as president to serve out remaining terms.

Historically speaking, in most presidential elections either an incumbent president or vice president has been in the race. The 2008 election is a rare election since it has no such incumbents running, which hasn’t happened since 1952 when Dwight Eisenhower was elected. But taking into account that Eisenhower was well known, having served as the Supreme Allied Commander in Europe in World War II, you would have to go back to 1928 to find a race that had no incumbents or really well-known figures running, like Eisenhower.

Thus today we have that rare presidential race with everything still up in the air, even though the Iowa Caucuses (could George Washington have survived them?) are just two weeks away on Jan. 3, to be followed by the New Hampshire primary on Jan. 8.
Americans want some solutions to wars, the housing crisis, the slowing economy, health care and many other issues. I believe Democrats will have our presidential nominee on Feb. 5, when California and 21 other states hold primaries.

This rare open primary will be followed by the longest general election ever — a good long debate for America and the voters. Democrats will make a very good case that after eight years it’s time to move the Republicans out of the White House.

Al Gore beat George W. Bush in 2000 by 537,179 votes nationally, but with its Dec. 12, 2000, decision, the U.S. Supreme Court gave the election to Bush by stopping the count in Florida and giving Bush 271 electoral votes. Someday, Americans will get rid of the Electoral College system and the national popular vote winner will be the candidate to be sworn in as president.

As politics takes a short break during this holiday season, think about reaching out to a military family in need. It can be especially lonely during the holidays for these families. I think about our troops every day, and the sacrifices they — and their families — make in service to our country.

After the holidays, the 2008 presidential race will once again be front and center, and I plan on being in New Hampshire to witness history.

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