Contested Convention: The GOP has been here before

Lincoln, Sherman, Boosters Parade, Library of Congress
Lincoln, Sherman, Boosters Parade, Library of Congress

We are hearing much lately regarding a contested convention, some saying how unprecedented it would be for the front-runner not to get the nomination.  So consider this. What do Abraham Lincoln, Rutherford B. Hayes, Benjamin Harrison, and Warren Harding have in common?

At the Republican Convention in 1860, William H. Seward (later famous as Secretary of State for his successful negotiation to purchase Alaska for the outrageous sum of $7.2 million – “Seward’s Folly”) led the voting on the first ballot by 173.5 of the 233 delegates needed to nominate.  Abraham Lincoln was a distant second with 102 delegates. Lincoln won the nomination on the third ballot with 349 votes to Seward’s 111.5.

In 1876 James G. Blain, former Speaker of the House, led on the first ballot with 285 delegates of the 378 required to nominate. Rutherford B. Hayes had 60 delegates. Hayes won the nomination on the 7th ballot by a narrow margin.

In 1888, John Sherman led the convention with 229 delegates of 417 required while Benjamin Harrison had 80. Harrison won the nomination on the 8th ballot with 544 votes.

In 1920, Leonard Wood led the convention with 287.5 of the 493 required for nomination. Frank Lowdon had 211.5 and Warren G. Harding had 65.5. Harding was nominated on the 10th ballot.

So what did Lincoln, Hayes, Harrison, and Harding have in common?  They were all Republicans; They were all behind when entering the Convention (sometimes far behind); They all won the nomination; and they all won the Presidency. (There are other cases of contested conventions where the eventual nominee did not win the Presidency.)

It should be noted that the front-runners that lost at these conventions had all supported some position or committed some act which had caused disenchantment among a large segment of the delegates. We certainly seem to be in a similar situation here in 2016.

If neither Trump nor Cruz arrives at the convention with the 1237 delegates required for nomination, expect a colossal fight.  But realize that the GOP has been here before.


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