Blogs > Ronald L. Feinman > Vice Presidents Who Have Been Presidential Nominees

Sep 19, 2020

Vice Presidents Who Have Been Presidential Nominees

tags: presidential history,Joe Biden,vice presidents

Ronald L. Feinman is the author of Assassinations, Threats, and the American Presidency: From Andrew Jackson to Barack Obama (Rowman Littlefield Publishers, 2015).  A paperback edition is now available.

With former Vice President Joe Biden now the Democratic nominee for president, it reminds us of recent decades when a number of Vice Presidents have been presidential contenders, but mostly without much success. 

A total of 12 vice presidents have run for president, but with only 5 of them so far succeeding.

In the early years of the American Republic, we saw three vice presidents succeed the president they served, as follows:

John Adams (1797-1801), succeeded George Washington, but then was defeated for a second term in 1800.

Thomas Jefferson (1801-1809), succeeded John Adams, and served two complete terms of office.

Martin Van Buren (1837-1841) succeeded Andrew Jackson, but then was defeated for a second term in 1840.

Only one other Vice President in the 19th century was a Presidential nominee. John C. Breckinridge served as Vice President under James Buchanan (1857-1861), but ran on a splinter ticket, as the Democratic Party nominated Stephen Douglas for President in 1860.  Breckinridge won more electoral votes than Douglas, Douglas won more popular votes than Breckinridge, and both lost to Abraham Lincoln.

Franklin D. Roosevelt had both of his first two Vice Presidents seek the Presidency, but both failed, with John Nance Garner (1933-1941) serving in the first two Roosevelt terms, and wanting to succeed his boss, but FDR allowed himself to be promoted for a third term, and that killed the chances for Garner, who refused to be Vice President for a third term.

So third term Vice President Henry A. Wallace (1941-1945) served, and then was dropped at the 1944 Democratic National Convention due to pressure from Southern delegates that Wallace with his civil rights views was unacceptable. So Harry Truman was selected to be Vice President for the 4th term, and soon succeeded to the Presidency after only 82 days as Vice President.  Wallace went on to become a critic of Truman, and to compete against him as the Progressive Party nominee in 1948, performing poorly with only about 1.1 million popular votes and no electoral votes, and was forgotten in history.

Richard Nixon (1953-1961) served as Vice President under Dwight D. Eisenhower, and then lost a close race to John F. Kennedy in 1960, but to the surprise of many, despite his California gubernatorial defeat in 1962, came back as the Republican nominee in 1968 against Hubert Humphrey, and won the Presidency (1969-1974),and served part of a second term before being forced out by the Watergate Scandal in 1974.

Hubert Humphrey (1965-1969) served as Vice President under Lyndon B. Johnson in his full term, but lost a close Presidential race in 1968 to Richard Nixon, and was a contender to be the Presidential nominee again in 1972, but failed to accomplish his goal.

Walter Mondale (1977-1981) served as Vice President under Jimmy Carter, lost reelection with Carter, but then was the Democratic Presidential candidate in 1984 against Ronald Reagan, who won a massive second term victory.

George H. W. Bush (1981-1989) served two terms under Ronald Reagan, won the Presidency to succeed his boss in the 1988 election, the first time that had happened since Martin Van Buren in 1836.  However, he failed to win reelection in 1992, losing to Bill Clinton.

Al Gore (1993-2001) served two terms under Bill Clinton, and was the Presidential nominee of his party in 2000, but in a contested election, lost the Electoral College to George W. Bush, due to the decision of the Supreme Court to intervene, and give Florida to Bush by a total of 537 votes statewide, despite Gore’s 540,000 popular vote lead nationally.

Now, Joe Biden, after being Vice President (2009-2017) under Barack Obama, is the Presidential nominee of his party against Donald Trump in the Presidential Election of 2020, with, at this writing, all public opinion polls showing him with a substantial lead, but only voting counts, not polls, so we shall see.

If Biden wins, he will be only the 6th of 12 Vice Presidents who became President by election, with four directly after (Adams, Jefferson, Van Buren, Bush) and two others four (Biden) and eight (Nixon) years later.

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