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1920 Presidential Election—Who Was The Best Candidate?

Who was the best candidate in the 1920 Presidential election? 

The Republican nominee was Senator Warren G. Harding of Ohio. Senator Harding, a deeply conservative and unimaginative figure, has long been regarded as one of our worst Presidents.   

No right-thinking person would have voted for Mr. Harding in 1920. The fact that 60% of the electorate did indeed vote for Mr. Harding only proves my point.

The Democrat was Governor James Cox of Ohio. Governor Cox’s record in Ohio did have its merits. He had regulated utilities, required lobbyists to register, built more up-to-date schools and advocated for a workmen’s compensation law.

A bad point about Governor Cox was that he had signed into law a bill that prohibited teaching students any language but English up until the eighth grade. This legislation was part of anti-German paranoia during WW I. The target of the law was the teaching of German in heavily German Ohio cities such as Cincinnati.

The Socialist was Eugene V. Debs of Indiana. Much of what Socialists proposed may have seem far-fetched at the time, but later became part of American life.

The 1920 Socialist platform advocated a minimum wage, an end to child labor, and rights for black Americans.

Mr. Debs had won 6% of the vote in the 1912 Presidential election and would win 3.4% in 1920. Not a bad showing for a third-party candidate.

In 1920, I would have likely voted for Mr. Debs. The election was a clear Harding victory. It would have worth the risk to vote for Mr. Debs and his greater social vision, at the expense of the more progressive of the major party candidates.

In fairness, it should be noted that President Harding pardoned Mr. Debs from jail. Mr. Debs had been put in jail by Woodrow Wilson’s Justice Department for his opposition to WW I.  Mr. Debs ran his 1920 campaign from prison.

President Wilson would not pardon Mr. Debs. President Harding was more humane and just in this regard.

July 31, 2008 Posted by | Political History, Politics | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

A History Of The Ohio Primary

Going back the Progressive Era origins of nominating primaries, the Ohio Presidential primary has a nearly century long history.

( Here are some basic facts and a brief history of Ohio. The population of Ohio is approximately 11.5 million. George Bush carried the state 51%-49% in 2004.)

Here is a history of some notable results from Ohio since the first primary in 1912.

The first Ohio primary featured something modern political observers can grasp—An ideological fight among Republicans.

Progressive challenger, former President Theodore Roosevelt, defeated incumbent President William Howard Taft, a more conservative figure, by a 55%-40% margin. President Taft was from Cincinnati. This outcome shows the bent of the Ohio Republican electorate at the time and offers a clue why the progressive reform of the primary was embraced early in Ohio.

On the other side, Ohio Governor Judson Harmon defeated Woodrow Wilson.

Judson had defeated Warren Harding in 1910 to become Governor.

(In November of 1912 in Ohio it was Wilson  41%, Roosevelt 27% and Taft 22%.)

In 1920, Ohioans had the chance to vote for locals in both primaries. The Republican winner was Senator Warren Harding who beat General Leonard Wood by an unimpressive 47%-41%. ( Maybe Ohio voters knew from experience that Senator Harding would be a bad President. He was in fact terrible President.)

Democrats in 1920 supported Ohio Governor James Cox with 98%.

However, despite the lack of unity in the primary, Harding beat Cox 59% -39% in November.

( The only time since 1920 that both major party nominees were from the same state was 1944 when Franklin Delano Roosevelt beat New York Governor Thomas E. Dewey.)

Ohio Republicans in 1932 gave incumbent Herbert Hoover only 6%. The winner was Favorite Son Jacob Coxey.

Hoover was easily renominated despite winning only 33% of all primary votes in 1932.  It would not be until the 1970’s that primaries would begin consistently influential in the nominating process.

Coxey had been involved in politics since leading poor people’s protests in Washington in the 1890’s. He is interesting to read about.  

(Jacob Coxey)

President Taft’s son, Senator Robert Taft, was the 99% winner of the 1940 Ohio Republican primary. This was the beginning of a series of Taft efforts to reach the White House. Seen as a father of modern conservatism, and an author of the terrible Taft-Hartley Act, Taft was the choice of an “unpledged” slate of delegates that won the 1948 Republican primary. Taft also won the 1952 primary.

(Robert Taft)

For 1956, ’60 ’64 and ’68, Favorite Son candidates were the winners in both party primaries in Ohio. The only exception to this outcome was Richard Nixon’s nearly uncontested win in 1960.

The 1964 and ’68 Republican favorite son choice in Ohio was Governor James A. Rhodes. An outspoken so-called “law-and-order” politician, it was Governor Rhodes who ordered the troops in at the killing of anti-war protesters at Kent State in 1970.

The Democratic primary was sharply contested in 1972. Party establishment choice Hubert Humphrey was the 41%– 40% winner over liberal Senator George McGovern.

The 2008 Clinton–Obama fight seems an echo of the ’72 race to some degree.

While conservatives Taft and Rhodes had found favor with Ohio Republicans in the World War II and post-war era, a more moderate wing of the party prevailed in 1976. In ’76, incumbent President Gerald Ford beat Ronald Reagan 55%-45%. Not strong for an incumbent, but better than W.H Taft or Hoover had done in the Ohio primary.

The 1980 Democratic primary, contested in June when the race had already been decided, gave President Jimmy Carter a 51% 44% over Ted Kennedy. Another weak showing for an incumbent who would go on to lose.

Democrats in 1984 though went for the challenger to the party establishment. Senator Gary Hart defeated Walter Mondale42%-40%. The wonkish high-tech Hart’s win over a lunch-bucket union regular like Mondale in a state like Ohio showed the weakness of the Mondale campaign.

(Gary Hart)

In 1988, ’92 and ’96, the Ohio primary took place late in the process. Voters in each party primary voted for the eventual nominee of the party.

For 2000, Ohio moved it’s primary up to Super Tuesday March 7. ( Please click here for a history of Super Tuesday.)The George W. Bush/John McCain battle was still alive at that point. The more conservative Bush won a 58%-37% victory. This confirmed again the dominance of the right in Ohio Republican politics.

In March of 2004, John Edwards won 34% against 51% for John Kerry. This was one of Edwards’ strongest showings outside the South.

Texas Liberal is leading the way in political history blogging in 2008.

(Post card is of Youngstown in 1910’s. Please click here for a history of Youngstown. )

March 1, 2008 Posted by | Campaign 2008, Cincinnati, History, Political History, Politics | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments