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Presidents' Day Special: Small State Blues

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A president has been elected from a state with less than 10 electoral votes just four times since 1789

billclinton10.jpgWhat do former presidential candidates Jon Huntsman, Bill Richardson, Joe Biden, Chris Dodd, Mike Gravel, Tom Vilsack, Mike Huckabee, Sam Brownback, Tom Tancredo, Howard Dean, Wesley Clark, Joe Lieberman, Gary Bauer, Orrin Hatch, and John McCain (in 2000) have in common?

Not only did they fail to win the presidency during the last few election cycles, but they each came from states with a fairly small population.

While of course only one candidate can emerge as the winner, and many contenders hailing from big states fail each time around as well (e.g. Rick Perry in 2012), the struggles of small states to produce a president have been particularly pronounced over the last 200+ years.

A Smart Politics review of presidential elections finds that candidates from small states - those with less than 10 electoral votes - have won the presidency just four times out of 56 elections since 1789.

And just three presidential candidates have bucked this trend:

· Zachary Taylor from Louisiana in 1848 (with 6 Electoral College votes)
· Franklin Pierce from New Hampshire in 1852 (5)
· Bill Clinton from Arkansas in 1992 and 1996 (6)

While it intuitively makes sense that fewer candidates might come from these less populated states, taken collectively, the population pool of small states is quite significant: there have been 1,223 instances in which a state was allotted less than 10 electoral votes in a presidential election, compared to 908 instances for states with more than 10.

In other words, more than 57 percent of states have historically been of the "small state" variety.

But why so few presidents? Is this to be expected?

On the one hand, one can imagine that more populated states should naturally have a better chance at producing a larger number of candidates - particularly U.S. Representatives (James Garfield from Ohio) and perhaps non-politicians (e.g. Ulysses Grant from Ohio, Dwight Eisenhower from Pennsylvania).

However, candidates with these political biographies rarely win the White House.

Most presidents, in fact, have a background in the U.S. Senate or were governor of their home state, with 18 of the last 20 presidential election victors since 1932 serving in one these offices (with Eisenhower the exception).

And - no matter what the size - each state has just one governor and two U.S. Senators.

Not only have small state candidates won the White House just four times, a much larger number have been on the losing end of the general election.

Over the last 200+ years, 14 major party candidates from states with less than 10 electoral votes have lost in the general election:

· In 1824, William Crawford of Georgia (9 electoral votes)
· In 1848, Lewis Cass of Michigan (5)
· In 1852, Winfield Scott of New Jersey (7)
· In 1856, John Frémont of California (4)
· In 1864, George McClellan of New Jersey (7)
· In 1884, James Blaine of Maine (6)
· In 1896, 1900, and 1908, William Jennings Bryan of Nebraska (8)
· In 1924, John Davis of West Virginia (8)
· In 1936, Al Landon of Kansas (9)
· In 1964, Barry Goldwater of Arizona (5)
· In 1972, George McGovern of South Dakota (4)
· In 1996, Bob Dole of Kansas (6)

Overall, states with 10+ electoral votes have produced presidents at a 17.4 times greater rate (52 presidents from a base of 908 states, or 5.73 percent) than states with fewer than 10 votes (four presidents from a base of 1,223 states, or 0.33 percent).

Small states will be shut out of the White House once again in 2012 with the remaining major party candidates all coming from delegate-rich states: Barack Obama from Illinois (20), Mitt Romney from Massachusetts (11), Rick Santorum from Pennsylvania (20), Newt Gingrich from Georgia (16), and Ron Paul from Texas (38).

And although candidates from relatively sparsely populated states rarely win the presidency, hailing from the most delegate-rich state is far from a guarantee of White House success in the general election.

The candidate from the state with the most electoral votes only has a modest historical advantage over his opponent in the general election.

In the 53 elections with a challenger, the candidate from the larger state won 28 contests with the candidate from the state with fewer electoral votes winning 19 times.

In six presidential election contests the candidates came from states with the same number of electoral votes:

· In 1832, with Andrew Jackson (Tennessee) and Henry Clay (Kentucky)
· In 1904, with Teddy Roosevelt and Alton Parker (both New York)
· In 1920, with Warren Harding and James Cox (both Ohio)
· In 1940, with FDR and Wendell Wilkie (both New York)
· In 1944, with FDR and Thomas Dewey (both New York)
· In 1996, with Bill Clinton (Arkansas) and Bob Dole (Kansas)

There have been just two instances in which a winning presidential candidate failed to carry his home state: James Polk in 1844 (Tennessee) and Woodrow Wilson in 1916 (New Jersey).

Presidential Election Winners Home State Electoral Vote Tally

Year
President
State
Electoral votes
2008
Barack Obama
Illinois
21
2004
George W. Bush
Texas
34
2000
George W. Bush
Texas
32
1996
Bill Clinton
Arkansas
6
1992
Bill Clinton
Arkansas
6
1988
George Bush
Texas
29
1984
Ronald Reagan
California
47
1980
Ronald Reagan
California
45
1976
Jimmy Carter
Georgia
12
1972
Richard Nixon
California
45
1968
Richard Nixon
California
40
1964
Lyndon Johnson
Texas
25
1960
John Kennedy
Massachusetts
16
1956
Dwight Eisenhower
Pennsylvania
32
1952
Dwight Eisenhower
Pennsylvania
32
1948
Harry Truman
Missouri
15
1944
Franklin Roosevelt
New York
47
1940
Franklin Roosevelt
New York
47
1936
Franklin Roosevelt
New York
47
1932
Franklin Roosevelt
New York
47
1928
Herbert Hoover
Iowa
13
1924
Calvin Coolidge
Massachusetts
18
1920
Warren Harding
Ohio
24
1916*
Woodrow Wilson
New Jersey
14
1912
Woodrow Wilson
New Jersey
14
1908
William Taft
Ohio
23
1904
Teddy Roosevelt
New York
39
1900
William McKinley
Ohio
23
1896
William McKinley
Ohio
23
1892
Grover Cleveland
New York
36
1888
Benjamin Harrison
Indiana
15
1884
Grover Cleveland
New York
36
1880
James Garfield
Ohio
22
1876
Rutherford Hayes
Ohio
22
1872
Ulysses Grant
Ohio
22
1868
Ulysses Grant
Ohio
21
1864
Abraham Lincoln
Illinois
16
1860
Abraham Lincoln
Illinois
11
1856
James Buchanan
Pennsylvania
27
1852
Franklin Pierce
New Hampshire
5
1848
Zachary Taylor
Louisiana
6
1844*
James Polk
Tennessee
13
1840
William Harrison
Ohio
21
1836
Martin Van Buren
New York
42
1832
Andrew Jackson
Tennessee
15
1828
Andrew Jackson
Tennessee
11
1824
John Q. Adams
Massachusetts
15
1820
James Monroe
Virginia
25
1816
James Monroe
Virginia
25
1812
James Madison
Virginia
25
1808
James Madison
Virginia
24
1804
Thomas Jefferson
Virginia
24
1800
Thomas Jefferson
Virginia
21
1796
John Adams
Massachusetts
16
1792
George Washington
Virginia
21
1789
George Washington
Virginia
12
* Lost home state. Table compiled by Smart Politics.

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An Idaho Six Pack

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