At least one failed major party presidential candidate has run again for the office in every cycle in the modern primary era

Of the half-dozen or so candidates to enter the race to challenge President Donald Trump in 2020, none has previously launched a bid for the White House.

But for all the buzz surrounding the ‘fresh faces’ in the Democratic Party lining up to run for president, history suggests there will be at least one candidate joining the field that is a veteran of presidential campaigns.

Since the modern primary era commenced in 1972, at least one failed presidential candidate has suited up to make a second (or third) run at the office every cycle.

In the open seat 2016 presidential race there were five such candidates: Democrat Hillary Clinton (2008) and Republicans John Kasich (2000), Mike Huckabee (2008), Jim Gilmore (2008), Rick Perry (2012), and Rick Santorum (2012).

Kasich is one of the handful of Republicans who is said to be contemplating a challenge of Trump in 2020.

But the former Ohio governor is not the only, nor the most high profile, possible retread candidate.

Perceived frontrunner Joe Biden already has two failed presidential campaigns under his belt – a brief 107-day bid in 1988 and a much longer (but no more successful) 338-day campaign in 2008.

A third possible failed presidential hopeful who could enter the race again in 2020 is of course Bernie Sanders.

Sanders won nearly two-dozen caucuses and primaries in 2016 and would inspire both rabid supporters and equally fervent detractors should he run again this cycle.

Over the 12 election cycles from 1972 through 2016, the nation has seen nearly five-dozen retread candidacies by major party or notable independent politicians, or approximately 30 percent of those to run for the office during this period.

The largest number of losing presidential candidates seeking redemption during this era in any given cycle is seven – reached in 1976, 1988, and 2000.

In 1976, Republican Ronald Reagan made his second presidential run – eight years after losing his party’s nomination to Richard Nixon.

That same year, five Democrats (plus one former Democrat) returned to the campaign trail after one or more failed bids: Alabama Governor George Wallace (1964, 1968, 1972), former Minnesota U.S. Senator Eugene McCarthy (1968, 1972) – running as an independent, former Oklahoma U.S. Senator Fred Harris (1972), Washington U.S. Senator Scoop Jackson (1972), former North Carolina Governor Terry Sanford (1972), and Washington, D.C. U.S. Delegate Walter Fauntroy (1972).

In the open 1988 cycle, four Republican and three Democratic retreads ran for president with Vice President George H.W. Bush (1980) winning the general election.

Kansas U.S. Senator Bob Dole (1980), former Minnesota Governor Harold Stassen (1944, 1948, 1952, 1964, 1968, 1980, 1984), and former Special Ambassador to Paraguay Ben Fernandez (1980, 1984) also sought the GOP nomination.

On the Democratic side, Gary Hart (1984), Jesse Jackson (1984), and Lyndon LaRouche (1976, 1980, 1984) also launched official campaigns. [Note: It may be generous to include LaRouche as a non-fringe candidate for this analysis, although over his many presidential runs he received more than one percent of the vote in several presidential primaries].

In 2000, former presidential candidates included Democratic Vice President Al Gore (1988) and LaRouche (1976, 1980, 1984, 1988, 1992, 1996) and former Tennessee Republican Governor Lamar Alexander (1996), publisher Steve Forbes (1996), former United Nations Economic and Social Council Ambassador Alan Keyes (1996), columnist Pat Buchanan (1992, 1996), and Stassen (1944, 1948, 1952, 1964, 1968, 1980, 1984, 1988, 1992, 1996).

The open 2008 cycle saw six former White House contenders launch second (or third) presidential bids: Delaware U.S. Senator Joe Biden (1988), former North Carolina U.S. Senator John Edwards (2004), and Ohio U.S. Representative Dennis Kucinich (2004) on the Democratic side and Arizona U.S. Senator John McCain (2000), Texas U.S. Representative Ron Paul (1988, 1992), and Keyes (1996, 2000) for the GOP.

The fewest number of non-incumbent repeat presidential candidates across this 12-cycle period came in 2004 with only two: Democratic Missouri Congressman Dick Gephardt (1988) and LaRouche (1976, 1980, 1984, 1988, 1992, 1996, 2000).

At least four ‘repeat offenders’ have run in every cycle except in 2004 and 2012, when three such Republicans vied for their party’s nomination once again: Mitt Romney (2008), Herman Cain (2000), and Ron Paul (1988, 1992, 2008).

Overall, an average of 4.9 non-incumbent losing presidential retreads have run for the presidency per cycle since 1972 through 2016.

An equal number – 29 each – have been Democrats and Republicans, with one notable independent (Ross Perot in 1996).

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  1. Nikoli Orr on February 1, 2019 at 9:15 am

    1. As of this commenting, neither ex-Senator HRC nor new Senator “Mitt” Romney has definitively taken her-/him-self out of becoming a “retread candidate” for next year – and each has gone far further on her/his own than Kasich or Biden.
    2. a) “…107-day bid in ‘1988’…” Technically and literally, this assertion is inaccurate; in that calendar year, the three-term senator was suffering and recovering from 2 (!) aneurysms and a pulmonary embolism, causing him to be away from his Senate duties for about 7 months, to say nothing of any presidential campaigning, viable or otherwise. In hindsight, the dismal end to his long-ago, nearly forgotten first bid may be regarded as truly a blessing in disguise; b) “…perceived frontrunner…” If he is still a senator now, he would surely not be considered as such. As it stands, he arguably merits mention only as a FIRST-TIER contender, along with VT Senator Sanders ( former mayor and at-large US representative), entrepreneur Michael Bloomberg (former 3-term mayor of a megacity), and CA Senator Kamala Harris (former district attorney and attorney general) – each of whom have garnered many more (numerical) votes on their own than he, and each of whom is expected to at least hold her or his own against the former chairman of 2 Senate committees and ex-vice president in terms of campaign funds.

    • Dr Eric Ostermeier on February 3, 2019 at 1:46 pm

      Of course, in context, ‘1988’ refers to the cycle of Biden’s first presidential run, not the year in which his campaign for the office launched, but still thanks for the interesting info. about that period of the then-U.S. Senator’s life.

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