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If You Thought Getting Elected the First Time Was Hard …

Meet the 16 men who have been elected to serve consecutive terms as president.
When he retakes the oath of office Monday, President Barack Obama will join an exclusive club. Obama becomes the 16th of the nation’s 44 presidents who’ve been re-elected to serve as commander-in-chief for two consecutive terms.

The earliest two-termers — George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and James Monroe — faced little if any opposition while running for another term. Eliminate them and you have fewer than a dozen men who’ve been able to convince the majority of voters that they deserved another four years.

“Nowadays the problems are great and Americans are more inclined to blame presidents, especially for a bad economy, than they would a hundred years ago,” explains Michael Beschloss, presidential historian and NewsHour regular.

On the campaign trail this fall, Mr. Obama gave himself a grade of “incomplete” on his first-term efforts to help the country emerge from recession. But the president became the first president to win re-election in the midst of high unemployment since Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected to four terms.

Serving a second term has become the measure of a successful presidency, but no magic formula has emerged on how to govern during the first four years to ensure that the country wants a president back for more. Some presidents who championed tough legislation weren’t re-elected. Others played a shrewd game of politics to hold on to the office.

“[Richard] Nixon felt that the difference between a re-elected president in history and a one-term president in history was so great that he felt compelled to authorize the excesses that led to the Watergate scandal,” Beschloss says.

As he starts his second term, Mr. Obama seems poised to tackle even more challenging policy issues.

“Sometimes you wonder why presidents would like to have a second term when you realize from FDR on, [they] have almost consistently had some very horrible experiences after winning re-election,” Beschloss says.

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