Jeff Greenfield on Ohio’s presidential past

A lot of Ohio Republicans were disappointed when Mitt Romney did not choose Senator Rob Portman as his running mate. There hasn’t been an Ohioan on a national ticket since 1944, when Ohio’s Governor, John Bricker, helped Tom Dewey beat FDR there by a fraction of one percent.

Once upon a time Ohio was called “the mother of presidents.” Between 1840 and 1920, eight “Buckeyes” won the White House — all of them Republican (save for William Henry Harrison, elected before there was a Republican party).

That’s an impressive record of electoral success. But when you look at what happened after they were elected, Senator Portman might be breathing a sigh of relief.

It’s a perfect record–of disaster.

1841: William Henry Harrison gives a two hour inaugural speech without his overcoat.. Contracts pneumonia.. Dies a month later. The shortest tenure of any president.

1868: After his election, Civil War hero, Ulysses S. Grant, presides over a presidency enmeshed in the worst series of scandals of any president– at least until Watergate.

1876: Rutherford B. Hayes, despite losing the popular vote, wins the presidency through a bit of political chicanery so blatant that many refer to him as “his fraudulency.” He doesn’t even try for a second term.

1881: James A. Garfield is shot less than four months after his inaugural — and dies two months later at the hands of incompetent doctors… That’s the second shortest tenure of any president.

1888: Benjamin Harrison (William’s grandson) wins despite losing the popular vote, then is defeated four years later by Grover Cleveland in a re-match.

1896: Ohio Governor William McKinkley crushes William Jennings Bryan, and beats him again four years later. Barely six months into his second term, he’s shot and killed by a self-described anarchist.

1912: William Howard Taft is barely renominated, then wins only eight electoral votes after being challenged by his predecessor, Teddy Roosevelt–worst showing of any incumbent.

1920: Warren Harding is elected in a landslide but dies in office less than three years later as his administration descends into scandal that will send his interior secretary to jail. He remains ranked as one of the worst presidents ever.

So do not feel too sorry about being passed over, Senator Portman. Had you found yourself on a path to the white house, you might have found yourself singing the same refrain as your fellow buckeyes: “Why o why o why o? Why did i ever leave Ohio?”

 

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