History of N.H. vote bodes ill for incumbent Bush Primary letdowns have led to losses by predecessors

February 19, 1992|By David Hess | David Hess,Knight-Ridder News Service

WASHINGTON -- The egg on President Bush's face after yesterday's New Hampshire vote also has smeared the chins of several other incumbents since the advent of popular primaries in the early part of this century.

In every case, the president was later defeated in the general election or chose to retire to avoid further humiliation. Ironically, the challengers in every case failed later to win their party nominations.

In 1912, challenger Theodore Roosevelt mopped up incumbent Republican William Howard Taft in 10 of the nation's 13 contested primary races, garnering almost 52 percent of the popular vote to Mr. Taft's 34 percent.

But Republicans at their national convention nominated Mr. Taft anyway, and he went on to lose the general election to Democrat Woodrow Wilson. Mr. Roosevelt, embittered by the GOP's back-room shenanigans, ran on an unsuccessful Progressive Party ticket.

Twenty years later, in 1932, Joseph I. France of Maryland outpolled incumbent Herbert Hoover in six of seven Republican primaries where they went head-to-head. In all the races, Mr. France amassed 49 percent of the vote and Mr. Hoover got 33 percent.

But Mr. Hoover won the nomination at the convention and then lost to Democrat Franklin D. Roosevelt in November.

Twenty years after that, in 1952, President Harry S. Truman retired from contention after Sen. Estes Kefauver of Tennessee bashed him, 55 percent to 44 percent, in the New Hampshire primary.

Mr. Kefauver went on to get 64 percent of the aggregate primary vote but lost the nomination at the Democratic convention to Illinois Gov. Adlai E. Stevenson.

In 1968, weakened by the Vietnam War and domestic discord, President Lyndon B. Johnson bowed out when Sen. Eugene McCarthy of Minnesota embarrassed him by polling 42 percent of the vote in New Hampshire. Mr. Johnson got 49 percent.

The Democratic nomination finally went to Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey, who garnered only 2.2 percent of the total primary vote. But it wasn't worth much after all the party infighting.

Republican Richard M. Nixon won the presidency that fall.

In 1976, President Gerald R. Ford -- beleaguered by a flagging economy and strong GOP primary showings in several states by Ronald Reagan -- lost the presidency to former Georgia Gov. Jimmy Carter. Mr. Reagan had come within 1.4 percentage points of upsetting Mr. Ford in New Hampshire.

The same fate awaited Mr. Carter four years later after a series of bruising Democratic primary battles with Massachusetts Sen. Edward M. Kennedy.

In New Hampshire, Mr. Carter barely bested Mr. Kennedy, 52 percent to 48 percent. Mr. Reagan then defeated Mr. Carter in the November election.

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