Mother's empty nest

November 14, 1995|By Theo Lippman Jr.

LAST TUESDAY'S election returns in Virginia and last Wednesday's announcement by the state's best known and most popular resident that he will not seek political office in 1996 will prolong once more the barrenness of the state that calls itself ''the Mother of Presidents.''

It has now been 175 years since a Virginian was elected president. That would be James Monroe, who was re-elected to a second term in 1820. (He followed Virginians George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison into the office.) It has been 150 years since a Virginian served as president. That would be John Tyler, who was elected vice president in 1840 and rose to the presidency in 1841 when President William Henry Harrison died.

Virginians claim Harrison as one of their own. But he was elected from Ohio. He had moved to the then Northwest Territory at age 25, soon to become a representative, then senator from Ohio after it became a state.

Virginians also claim President Zachary Taylor. Taylor was born in Virginia but migrated west with his parents when he was eight months old. He was elected from Louisiana.

Virginians also claim Woodrow Wilson. He was born there but was taken to Georgia when he was less than a year old, then to South Carolina, then to North Carolina. He was elected while he was governor of New Jersey.

So John Tyler was the last real Virginian in the White House. Born and nurtured by that mother. He was also the last Virginian elected vice president. He sought the presidency in 1844, but was so unpopular that his party dumped him from the ticket.

In fact, in the century and a half since then, the Mother of Presidents hasn't even been the Mother of Presidential Candidates or even the Mother of Vice Presidential Candidates.

No Virginian has sought or was considered for either nomination in either major party from 1844 till 1988. In 1988 Pat Robertson sought the Republican presidential nomination. (I don't count Lyndon LaRouche, who got 0.3 percent of the vote in the Democratic primaries.) Robertson got between 6 and 21 percent of the vote in 15 primaries, never finishing better than a not-close third, even in Virginia.

General Powell was born in New York, but he is a legal resident and registered voter in McLean, Virginia. Unless he changes his mind in 1996 or comes on strong in 2000, the prospects of any other Virginian being on a national ticket are indeed slim.

The cavalier

Some of us used to think that Sen. Charles Robb was on that track, but he took the state's other motto, ''Virginia Is for Lovers,'' a little too literally and his national aspirations are history.

The election returns of last week were bad news for the only other Virginian who had real hopes of being on the Republicans' national ticket next year. Gov. George Allen made an all-out, high-profile effort to elect the first Republican legislature in a Southern state since Reconstruction. Had he succeeded, he would have been on the A List of vice-presidential hopefuls next year. He failed.

This leaves only one Virginian in the race. The last Virginian to seek the presidency, Pat Buchanan, who attracted the anti-George Bush votes in 1992 (but never enough to come close to carrying a single state primary) is running again and, so far, doing even more poorly in the polls than he did at the polls in 1992. He was born in Washington, but is General Powell's neighbor in McLean.

Theo Lippman Jr. writes editorials for The Sun.

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