Biggest Upset In History?
Some commentators are suggesting that Barack Obama’s apparent winning of the presidential nomination is the biggest upset ever in winning a nomination.
Did he basically come out of nowhere? Yes, indeed, I’ll grant that point. He didn’t bring a whole lot to the fight. Few achievements in public service, no family connections or wealth, not much but an impressive personal resume and the ability to give a great speech. To that limited group of assets, we have to add a sharp strategic sense that managed to put together a winning campaign. Hey, he won.
But beating Senator Clinton should not seem that staggering an achievement. She had at least three big weaknesses. First, she’s a she. There are just as many voters who won’t vote for a woman as there are who won’t vote for an African-American. Second, she’s been around so long, and been in so many scrapes with Whitewater and Monica-gate, that she’s seen as a polarizing character and way too familiar. Third, she’s got this incredibly talented but unpredictable husband. . . .
Now let’s look at history. I offer a few contenders for the crown of biggest upset.
James M. Cox, Democrat, 1920 — Nominated on the 44th ballot of the National Convention, over the far better known William Jennings Bryan and William Gibbs McAdoo (Secretary of the Treasury and son-in-law to President Woodrow Wilson).
Cox and running mate Franklin Delano Roosevelt
John W. Davis, Democrat, 1920 — Picked on the 103d ballot of the National Convention, after McAdoo (again) and New York Governor Al Smith slugged it out for two brutal weeks.
Franklin Pierce, Democrat, 1852 — This New Hampshire governor was chosen on the 49th ballot of the party’s convention over the far better known Lewis Cass (former Secretary of War), Illinois Senator Stephen Douglas, and future president James Buchanan.
Wendell Willkie, Republican, 1940 — The leading contenders for the nomination were New York DA Thomas E. Dewey, Ohio Senator Robert Taft, and Michigan Senator Arthur Vandenburg. When they deadlocked on early ballots, Willkie came out of nowhere to take the nomination on the fifth poll.
Abraham Lincoln, Republican, 1860 — Talk about a thin resume! One two-year term in Congress. Lost for the Senate in 1856. Lost for the Senate in 1858. Running as the candidate of a party that had been created only six years before. A good lawyer with a nice way with words, and very, very tall.
Obama’s got a big win, and I think it actually qualifies as an upset. But let’s not get crazy about it.