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Politically Uncorrected: Winners, Presidential Nominees & Philadelphia Conventions

FDR Franklin Field
President Franklin D. Roosevelt speaks during the 1936 DNC at Franklin Field

It’s official. Philadelphia has been selected to host the 2016 Democratic National Convention scheduled to begin July 25th, 2016.

The competition was fierce with fifteen cities originally asked to submit bids, ultimately reduced down to just three finalists: Columbus, Brooklyn and Philadelphia.

And now there is one.

For Pennsylvanian’s, the selection was an easy one. The state’s political community provided enthusiastic bi-partisan endorsements of the City of Brotherly Love. City and regional officials similarly touted the city with former mayor and former Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell leading the effort to finance the convention.

Meanwhile others, including ironically the New York Times, placed Philadelphia third on its current “places to go” list, noting that “a series of projects has transformed Philadelphia into a hive of outdoor urban activity.” Other media cited among other things the benefits of Philly’s transportation systems, historical and cultural attractions, and supply of great restaurants. Even hometown guy, MSNBC’s Chris Matthews, weighed in with his arguments in favor of the city.

One critical narrative missing from the discussion, however, has been the city’s rich history holding conventions – as well as its remarkable record for transforming presidential nominees into presidents.   Of the eight major party candidates nominated in Philadelphia, five went on to win the presidency, and one (Dewey), lost to Truman after both were nominated in Philadelphia the same year (1948). Excepting 1948, only two Philadelphia nominees failed to win the presidency.

The GOP has been more likely to choose Philadelphia, having picked the city six times. In fact, the newly formed Republican Party in 1856 held their first quadrennial conclave in the city. They selected soldier, “Trail Blazer” and former U.S. Senator John C. Fremont.  Ironically, while the Republicans were nominating Fremont in Philly, the Democrats nominated Pennsylvania’s own James Buchanan in Cincinnati.  Buchanan carried his home state’s 27 electoral votes, producing Pennsylvania’s first and (so far) only president.

By 1872, former Civil War Union General Ulysses S. Grant was put forward at his party’s Philadelphia convention in his reelection campaign against New York Tribune editor Horace Greeley, best remembered for his widely attributed  “Go West, young man” quotation. Greeley resigned his editorial post to campaign, having received both the Liberal Republican and the Democratic nominations. He needn’t have bothered. Grant easily won re-election, while the unlucky Greeley died soon after the election.

In 1900, Republican William McKinley was nominated in Philadelphia for his second term while his Democratic opponent for the second straight presidential election was William Jennings Bryan. McKinley bested Bryan a second time, with an even larger electoral vote than he received four years earlier.

In 1936, Democrat Franklin D. Roosevelt was re-nominated in Philadelphia and cruised to an easy 2nd term victory over Alf Landon, the Republican governor of Kansas and a Pennsylvania native. Roosevelt’s victory was the largest electoral landslide in presidential history. He lost only two states, Maine and Vermont giving rise to the political send-up “As Maine goes, so goes Vermont.”

Roosevelt’s opponent in his history making third election for president in 1940 was Wendell Willkie, corporate lawyer, energy company head, and former Democrat. Willkie received the Republican nomination in Philadelphia in 1940. The Willkie Clubs, and his large supporting demonstrations, helped him win the nomination but he lost the Electoral College vote decisively, 449 to 82, becoming only the second major party nominee to lose the presidency after being nominated in Philadelphia. The other was Fremont in 1856.

In 1948 Democrat Harry Truman was nominated in Philadelphia as well as Republican Tom Dewey. This was the only year both major parties nominated their candidates in Philadelphia. Not to be outdone, the city was also the site of the Progressive party convention the same year, which nominated Henry Wallace. Truman won in one of the most exciting presidential elections in history, turning what most pundits predicted as a sure defeat into an historic comeback victory over Gov. Tom Dewey.

Finally in 2000, Texas Republican Governor George W. Bush was nominated in Philadelphia and faced Democrat Al Gore in the fall. That election was ultimately decided by the Supreme Court, when it rendered a contentious and politically controversial decision.

Altogether then, there have been eight major party national conventions held in the city. The Democrats have held two, the Republicans six.

Democrats have won the presidency each time they have nominated their candidate in Philadelphia; excluding Dewey’s 1948 nomination, Republicans have won the presidency for three out of five Philadelphia nominations.

Philadelphia’s winning record can be construed even more favorably when it is considered that one of the GOP losers—Fremont— ran at a time that Republicans were still arguably a third party  -while both Truman and Dewey were Philadelphia nominees in 1948 making it impossible for both to win. And the GOP’s other loss, Wendell Willkie (1940), ran against Roosevelt in a year when probably no one could have defeated FDR.

Now that Democrats have selected Philadelphia for 2016, more than a historic winning streak will matter; electoral politics will as well. Pennsylvania, with its Democratic governor, Republican legislature, and moderate electorate may be the quintessential wild card among electoral swing states.

Pennsylvania may do more than nominate a presidential candidate in 2016; it might also elect a president.

One Response

  1. This account forgets to mention the Democratic midterm convention of 1982, held in Philadelphia, which was well attended and widely acclaimed. 1982 proved to be a strong Democratic year nationally, with major pickups throughout the country, including regaining control of the . Pennsylvania House. Counting that convention, this will be Philadelphia’s 4th Democratic National Convention in 2016.

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