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Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Historically, Nov. 6 Has Been Good To Republicans

Ronald Reagan is among the six presidential candidates in history – all Republicans – who were elected when voting day fell on November 6th. In this photo, he shakes hands with Democratic challenger Walter Mondale, prior to their debate in Kansas City, Mo. in October 1984. (Ron Edmonds/AP)

Since Election Day was standardized in 1845, there have been six presidential elections held on November 6. All of them have been won by the GOP candidate.

In 1860, Abraham Lincoln defeated Democrat Stephen Douglas.
In 1888, Benjamin Harrison defeated incumbent Democrat Grover Cleveland.
In 1900, William McKinley defeated Democrat William Jennings Bryan.
In 1928, Herbert Hoover defeated Democrat Al Smith.
In 1956, Dwight Eisenhower defeated Democrat Adlai Stevenson.
In 1984, Ronald Reagan defeated Democrat Walter Mondale.

Before 1860, voters across the country didn’t have much contact with the candidates – unlike today when you can’t get away from them, especially if you live in Ohio.

Abraham Lincoln never left Springfield, Ill. during the 1860 campaign, but his rival Stephen Douglas did, making speeches in the North and the South in the months before the Civil War. You could say Douglas was really the first presidential candidate in American history to campaign.

No Republican has won the presidency without winning Ohio since Lincoln was elected.

Seven southern states seceded before Lincoln was inaugurated in March 1861. And on November 6, 1861, Jefferson Davis was elected president of the Confederate States Of America. It was a six-year term.

It’s all about Ohio

Ohio has voted for the winners in the last 11 presidential elections. The last candidate to win without Ohio was Democrat John F. Kennedy in 1960. Democrat Franklin Roosevelt also won the presidency without winning Ohio in 1944. Republican Thomas Dewey won the Buckeye state in that election.

No Republican has won the presidency without winning Ohio since Lincoln was elected.

If you think those hanging chads were bad

Voting in early America used to be dangerous. There’s the story of a man named George Kyle, a Democrat, who on his way to vote in Baltimore in 1859 was beaten, stabbed and shot. We asked Harvard historian Jill Lepore to tell us why.

“We’ll, just because it was possible for people who were at the polls to tell how he was going to vote, based probably in this case on the color of his ballot, so that ruffians who are paid by parties to work the ballots – they’re called ‘shoulder strikers’ – can sort of bully you away from reaching the polling place,” Lepore said.

In those days you had to bring your own ballot to the polling place so George Kyle with his Democratic ballot was a target. He survived the ruffians’ attack, but his candidate lost, and when the result was challenged Congress ruled the election valid, because it said ‘‘any man of ordinary courage’ could have made it to the polls.

They say it’s going to be close

We all remember the 2000 presidential race between George W. Bush and Al Gore, which Bush won by essentially around 500 votes in Florida. But there have been other very close presidential elections, and that vote 12 years ago reminded us of one of them.

In the 1876 race between Republican Rutherford Hayes and Democrat Samuel Tilden, Hayes lost the popular vote, and the two were separated by just one electoral vote. So Congress appointed a commission to decide, and because there more Republicans on the commission than Democrats, they elected Hayes.

Kennedy won without carrying Ohio, Florida or California, which was Nixon’s home state.

In 1916 incumbent Democrat Woodrow Wilson beat Republican Charles Evans Hughes by just a three-percent-margin. Hughes is the only member of the Supreme Court ever nominated to run for president.

In the 1844 race Democrat James K. Polk beat Henry Clay of the Whig party by less than two-percent of the popular vote. Clay was known as a great statesman who represented Kentucky in both the House and Senate. He ran for president several times, including three losses as a major party candidate.

That year, 1844, was the last time that the presidential election was not held on the same day in every state. It was also the only presidential election in which the winner didn’t win either his home state or the state he lived in. Polk lost both his native North Carolina and Tennessee, where he was governor and also a congressman.

Democrat Grover Cleveland won the 1884 presidential election by less than one-percent of the popular vote over Republican James Blaine. You could break that one down to the difference of about 600 votes for Cleveland cast in New York state.

On a personal note

In the first presidential election I have any memory of, 1960, Democrat John F. Kennedy beat Republican Richard Nixon fairly easily in the Electoral College vote – 303 to 219 – but the difference between the two candidates in the popular vote was only 112,000 votes. Kennedy won without carrying Ohio, Florida or California, which was Nixon’s home state.

I was five and I’m pretty sure my mom voted for Kennedy and my dad voted for Nixon. Today I will be voting in my 10th presidential election. My youngest son Andy is voting in his first. It’s something I wish his grandparents were alive to see.

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Robin and Jeremy

Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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