I was inspired to write this article on November 30th, 2019 which is one year to the day since we lost President George H. W. Bush aka “41” who not only served as the 41st President of the United States, he also served as the 43rd Vice President. When Bush ran for the Presidency, he did so as a sitting Vice President. Since then, we’ve seen one former (Quale) and another sitting (Gore) Vice President run for President. Quale’s run in 2000 was brief, while Gore became his party’s nominee in 2000. We now have the 47th Vice President (Joe Biden) running for the Presidency.
The first two sections, “Vice President and Bust” and “Vice President to President” are merely informative, “Joe Biden’s Non-Scientific Odds” purely looks at Biden’s chances based on modern era Presidential races and the final section “President Biden?” gives my real final thought regard Vice President Biden’s chances of being elected President.
In this article, I’m primarily going to discuss the Vice Presidents who ran for the Presidency, whether they won or lost. I’m not going to mention those Vice Presidents who lost an election to another office, nor will I point out offices held after serving as Vice President unless they became President. This article isn’t original in scope nor is the information due to years of research. However, given I served 6.5 years at the White House Communications Agency, serving as a Vice Presidential Communications Officer & later Vice-Presidential Communications Response Officer and given my work in politics and with the White House, this topic is a major interest of mine.
Vice President and Bust
Many Vice Presidents have run for the Presidency and came up short, some before serving as Vice President, while others were either a sitting or former Vice President. For this section, I’ll only address sitting and former Vice Presidents who ran for the Presidency and lost either their party nomination or the general election. I’ll not address those Vice Presidents who became President and lost re-election to the Presidency as I’ll make note of them in other sections.
• 9th Vice President Richard Mentor Johnson (March 4, 1837–March 4, 1841): Lost Democratic Presidential nomination in 1844 to James K. Polk, who went on to win the Presidency.
• 11th Vice President George M. Dallas (March 4, 1845–March 4, 1849): Lost Democratic Presidential nomination in 1848 to Lewis Cass.
• 14th Vice President John C. Breckenridge (March 4, 1857–March 4, 1861): Lost general election after running as a Southern Democrat in a four-way race, finishing 3rd in the popular vote and finishing 2nd in the electoral college to Abraham Lincoln. Breckenridge is the youngest VP in history, winning the election at age 36.
• 22nd Vice President Levi P. Morton (March 4, 1889–March 4, 1893): Lost Republican Presidential nomination in 1896 to William McKinley, who went on to win the Presidency.
• 23rd Vice President Adlai Stevenson I (March 4, 1893–March 4, 1897): Lost Republican Vice Presidential nomination in 1900 to Theodore Roosevelt after having previously served as Vice President.
• 26th Vice President Charles W. Fairbanks (March 4, 1905–March 4, 1909): Lost Republican Presidential nomination in 1908 to William Howard Taft and in 1916 to Charles Evans Hughes. He was nominated to be Hughes running mate after having previously served as Vice President. They would lose the 1916 general election to Woodrow Wilson and Thomas R. Marshall.
• 32nd Vice President John Nance Garner (March 4, 1933–January 20, 1941): Lost Democratic Presidential nomination to Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1940, after having just served two terms as Vice President under President Roosevelt.
• 33rd Vice President Henry Wallace (January 20, 1941-January 20, 1945): Lost general election after running as a Progressive in a four-way race, finishing 4th in the popular vote to Harry Truman.
• 35th Vice President Alben W. Barkley (January 20, 1949-January 20, 1952): Lost Democratic Presidential nomination in 1952 to Adlai Stevenson II the grandson of the 23rd Vice President Adlai Stevenson I.
• 38th Vice President Hubert Humphrey (January 20, 1965-January 20, 1969): Lost Democratic Presidential nomination in 1952 and 1960. Won Democratic Presidential nomination but lost the general election in 1968 to Richard Nixon.
• 42nd Vice President Walter Mondale (January 20, 1977-January 20, 1981): Won Democratic Presidential nomination but lost the general election in 1984 to Ronald Reagan.
• 44th Vice President Dan Quayle (January 20, 1989-January 20, 1993): Briefly sought the Republican nomination in 2000, after finishing 8th in the Ames straw poll, he withdrew the following month and supported George W. Bush aka “43” who went on to win the Presidency.
• 45th Vice President Al Gore (January 20, 1993-January 20, 1901): Won Democratic Presidential nomination but lost the general election in 2000 to Bush “43”.
Note: Garner, Wallace, and Truman each served as Vice President under President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Roosevelt himself failed to be elected Vice President in 1920 at 38 years old, which would have made him the second-youngest Vice President in history.
Vice President to President
14 Vice Presidents have ascended to the Presidency, 8 upon the death of a President, 5 upon being elected and 1 upon the resignation of a President.
Four Vice Presidents ascended to the Presidency upon the death of the President due to natural causes.
• John Tyler, for William Henry Harrison in 1841: Tyler served out the remainder of William Henry Harrison’s term and failed to win the Democrat-Republican nomination for President in 1844, losing on the 9th ballot to James K. Polk who went on to win the Presidency.
• Millard Fillmore, for Zachary Taylor in 1850: Fillmore served out the remainder of Zachary Taylor’s term and failed to win the Whig nomination for President in 1852, losing on the 53rd ballot to General Winfield Scott. In 1856, Fillmore ran as a 3rd party candidate on the Know-Nothing ticket but finished 3rd in the general election.
• Calvin Coolidge, for Warren Harding in 1923: Coolidge was elected to a full term in 1924 but chose not to run in 1928.
• Harry S. Truman, for Franklin Roosevelt in 1945: Truman was elected to a full term in 1948 but chose to withdraw early in the primary process in 1952 due to age and health concerns.
Four Vice Presidents ascended to the Presidency upon the death of the President due to assassination.
• Andrew Johnson, for Abraham Lincoln in 1865: Andrew Johnson served out the remainder of Lincoln’s term and lost the Democratic Presidential nomination in 1868.
• Chester A. Arthur, for James Garfield in 1881: Arthur served out the remainder of Garfield’s term and in 1884 due to health and lack of major support didn’t truly seek the Republican nomination.
• Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt, for William McKinley in 1901: Roosevelt was elected to a full term in 1904 and chose not to run in 1908. Roosevelt later ran for the Republican nomination in 1912 and lost to his handpicked successor William Howard Taft, he would go on to run as a third-party candidate, placing second ahead of Taft in the general election, making him the most successful third-party candidate.
• Lyndon Johnson (LBJ), for John Kennedy (JFK) in 1963: LBJ was elected to a full term in 1964 but chose to withdraw early in the primary process in 1968 saying “I shall not seek, and I will not accept, the nomination of my party for another term as your President.” LBJ lost the Democratic Presidential nomination in 1960.
Four incumbent Vice Presidents won election to the Presidency.
• John Adams succeeded George Washington in 1797: Adams was elected to a full term in 1796 but lost re-election in 1800 to Jefferson.
• Thomas Jefferson succeeded Adams in 1801: Jefferson was elected to a full term in 1800, defeating Adams and was re-elected in 1804 but chose not to seek re-election in 1808.
• Martin Van Buren succeeded Andrew Jackson in 1837: Van Buren was elected to a full term in 1836 but lost re-election in 1840. Van Buren later ran for President as a third-party candidate and lost in 1848 on the Free-Soil Party ticket.
• George H.W. Bush succeeded Ronald Reagan in 1989: Bush was elected to a full term in 1988 but lost re-election in 1992.
One former Vice President won election to the Presidency.
• Richard Nixon served two terms as Vice President and lost a close Presidential election in 1960, eight years later in 1968, he won the Presidency, defeating the incumbent Vice President Hubert Humphrey. Nixon is the only non-incumbent Vice President to be elected President, he’s also the only person to be elected to two terms as Vice President (1952 & 1956) and two terms as President (1968 & 1972). He is also the only President to resign the Presidency.
One Vice President ascended to the Presidency upon the resignation of the President.
• Gerald Ford succeeded Richard Nixon in 1974: Ford lost the election to a full term in 1976 but was considered by Ronald Regan to be his Vice-Presidential running mate in 1980. Ford is the only person to serve as President to not be elected to the office, while Ford and Nelson Rockefeller are the only two people to serve as Vice President not to be elected to the office.
Joe Biden’s Non-Scientific Odds
A few folks ran for the Presidency before being elected Vice President, “Crazy Uncle” Joe Biden is one of them, having sought the Presidency in 1988 and 2008. In 1988 he had to bow out due to being caught plagiarizing a speech originally given by British Labour Party leader Neil Kinnock. His 2008 campaign had even more gaffes, but the Democrat Party had moved away from nominating one of their “also-rans” or their next guy in line. In 2008, Biden was up against the Clinton Crime Family and the phenom newcomer Barrack Obama and nearly a dozen other who’s who in the Democrat Party. Mind you, most of the other candidates were running to stay relevant, sell a book or secure a television show.
This time around, Biden joins a small list of Vice Presidents who’ve sought the Presidency and an even shorter list of those who’ve done so as a former Vice President. If he secures the Democrat nomination next year, he’ll join Richard Nixon and Walter Mondale as they’re the only two people to secure a major party nomination for President after leaving office in the modern era. If by some stretch Biden can go on to defeat President Trump in the general election, he’ll join Richard Nixon as they’ll be the only two non-incumbent Vice Presidents to have won the Presidency.
However, in the 2020 primary, Biden finds himself in a fight in this weird “cattle call” of party oddballs, a couple of billionaires, a congenital liar and a few nationally unknowns. Unlike his past attempts at the Presidency, Biden finds himself a well-known candidate, in fact, he’s the national front-runner, given he served as Vice President for 8 years under a popular President and served in the Senate for decades. But not even this can guarantee Biden the nomination or preferential treatment from his fellow candidates. In fact, if he wants the 2020 nomination, he’ll have to earn it and thus far the only person he’s wanted to fight is an elderly Iowa farmer and voter who asked him a legitimate question while he was on his “no malarkey” bus tour.
If Biden weren’t his own worst enemy, he would be able to capitalize on several positives that he has going for him. For one, he’s not hamstrung running as a two-term incumbent Vice President, given it’s hard for a party to win more than two consecutive terms. This is especially hard for incumbent Vice Presidents who’ve tried to do so. In the modern era, Richard Nixon almost did it in 1960, but the election was stolen from him. Next up was Hubert Humphrey who in 1968 was soundly defeated by Nixon which capped off his political comeback. Albeit, Humphrey only served a term as Vice President. Gerald Ford in 1976 tried to give his party a third consecutive term, albeit he wasn’t running as an incumbent Vice President but an unelected incumbent President. George H.W. Bush “41” was able to break the curse of the two-term Vice President by winning a term as President. This is something to this day that only he and America’s first Vice President John Adams has been able to do. Al Gore who served 8 years as Vice President under Bill Clinton, after defeating “41” in 1992 failed in his own right in 2000 to win the Presidency.
If we only include Vice Presidents from the modern era, which Presidential historians state began with the Presidential administration of Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) to the present day, we’ve had 14 Presidents and 16 Vice Presidents. Of these 16 Vice Presidents, 12 have run for the Presidency, by excluding the three Vice Presidents who assumed the Presidency due to a death, an assignation and a resignation of the President who went on to run for the Presidency as the incumbent President, that number drops to nine. Of these 9, four (Garner, Wallace, Barkley, and Quale) failed to win their party’s nomination, while five (Nixon, Humphrey, Mondale, Bush “41” and Gore) won their party’s nomination. Nixon is the only one of the five to win multiple nominations before winning the Presidency. He did so as an incumbent Vice President (as did the other four) and as a non-incumbent.
As for Biden, he’ll either join the group of those who’ve won their party’s nomination, or he won’t. Using these numbers, the odds are 5 to 4 in his favor of being the 2020 Democrat nominee. Of the five who won the nomination, only the two Republicans (Nixon and Bush) were successful in winning the Presidency, while the Democrats (Humphrey, Mondale, and Gore) weren’t so fortunate. Nixon did so as a non-incumbent Vice President and Bush as an incumbent Vice President. Going by these numbers, one could say that Biden either has a 2 in 5 chance of becoming President or he has no chance at all.
In the most recent section, I concluded that Joe Biden either has a 2 in 5 chance or no chance at all that he’ll become President. Mind you, this was simply based on prior Presidential races and had nothing to do with what Biden is up against. In reality; Biden will continue to be his own worst enemy and will also continue to face an onslaught of attacks from his fellow Democrats who are seeking the same nomination. If he can weather the storm and win the nomination by the time the Democrats meet for their convention next summer, he’ll face a fight against a President that will be merciless. If the former Vice President manages to keep it together and make it to the general election, he’ll be outmatched by President Trump. At present, Biden faces a President who’s responsible for arguably the strongest economy and employment numbers in our nation’s history. At the same time, President Trump is standing up for America, is working to extricate America from being the world police, all while ensuring we live up to our defense commitments and pushing our NATO allies to live up to theirs as well. President Trump is also working to make sure American workers and companies have an even playing field in the global markets all while exposing the Democrats and their lies and willingness through the “Deep State” to steal elections. Biden will certainly have his hands full and given America is prosperous and Trump is succeeding despite the Democrat’s criminal efforts, it’s hard to see how Biden will ever become more than a former Vice President.
Bonus: Vice-Presidential Trivia
• The Vice Presidency has been vacant due to resignation or death a total of 37 years and 290 days in our nation’s history.
• Two vice presidents resigned: John C. Calhoun and Spiro Agnew.
• Seven vice presidents have died in office: George Clinton, Elbridge Gerry, William Rufus De Vane King, Henry Wilson, Thomas Hendricks, Garret Hobart, and James Sherman.
• Three Vice Presidents were dropped from the ticket: Hannibal Hamlin (Lincoln) John Nance Garner and Henry Wallace (FDR).
• The youngest Vice President was John Breckinridge, who began serving at the age of 36 under President James Buchanan in 1857 – just one year above the office’s age of eligibility. The oldest U.S. vice-president was Alben Barkley, who became Vice President in 1949 at the age of 71.
• There have been 20 Republicans, 18 Democrats, 6 Democratic-Republicans, 2 Whigs and 1 Federalists who have served as Vice President.
• Two Vice Presidents have officially served as “Acting President”, Vice President George H.W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney.
• From 1788 to 1800, the presidential candidate who received the second most Electoral College votes was declared the Vice President.
• In 1792, the Presidential Succession Act passed, making the Senate President Pro Tempore next in line after the Vice President to succeed the President.
• The Constitution requires that a Vice President of the United States must be a native-born citizen, 35 years of age or older, who has resided in the United States for at least 14 years.
• The 25th cleared up questions regard the Presidential line of succession.
• The Vice President has one official duty; which is to preside over the Senate and to cast a vote in the Senate if there is a tie.
• The Vice President’s official residence is located at the U.S. Naval Observatory.
• During a duel in 1801, Jefferson’s Vice President Aaron Burr, shot and killed Alexander Hamilton.
• Two Vice Presidents have resigned while in office, John C. Calhoun who served under John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson and Spiro Agnew who served under Richard Nixon.