The Worst Acceptance Speech?

Goldwater's convention speech turned off GOP moderates, but it began a new era for conservatives.

hide captionGoldwater's convention speech turned off GOP moderates, but it began a new era for conservatives.

The Yankees-Red Sox rivalry played a role at both of this year's conventions.

hide captionThe Yankees-Red Sox rivalry played a role at both of this year's conventions.

Sixteen years ago today, Cheney launched his bid to become House Republican Whip.

hide captionSixteen years ago today, Cheney launched his bid to become House Republican Whip.

Q: Was Barry Goldwater's acceptance speech at the 1964 Republican convention — in which he said, "Extremism in defense of liberty is no viceā€¦ and moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue" — the worst acceptance speech ever? Or was it George McGovern's at the 1972 Democratic convention, in which his "Come Home America" missive was delivered at 3:00 in the morning? — Frank Donatelli, Washington, D.C.

A: The problem with calling either the "worst" in convention history is that it ignores the fact that neither candidate was going to be elected president that year. So it's hard to make the case that Goldwater or McGovern damaged his chances by his acceptance speech.

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Still, Goldwater certainly didn't help his cause by seeming to endorse "extremism" in his 1964 address, and in fact millions of Republicans either sat home or voted for President Johnson that November. But it wasn't a lost cause for conservatives. After years and years of having watched moderates win the GOP nomination (most notably Ike over Taft in '52), or watching moderates adopt liberal platforms (witness Nixon accepting Rockefeller's "Compact of Fifth Avenue" in '60), the right finally had its way in San Francisco, when Goldwater won the nomination on the first ballot. What Goldwater and his followers dreamed about in '64 became reality years later with Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush.

Whatever McGovern said at the 1972 Democratic convention in Miami Beach seems to have mattered less than when he said it. The "reformers" who took over the Democratic convention weren't able to run it as smoothly as did the party bosses of the past. A vice-presidential roll call that got out of hand (more of this below) led to McGovern finally giving his acceptance speech at around 3 a.m. ET. Could you imagine something like that happening in today's totally scripted conventions? That — as well as the contretemps involving the choice of Thomas Eagleton for vice president — combined to put McGovern in a hole from which he never recovered. He lost 49 out of 50 states in November.

Interesting footnote: Both the 1964 and 1972 elections were historic blowouts, but each losing party nonetheless was successful in the subsequent election: the Republicans with Richard Nixon in '68, and the Democrats with Jimmy Carter in '76.

Q: Has there ever been an incumbent president seeking re-election who failed to win renomination at his party's national convention? — Lucas Digman, Wisc.

A: Yes, several. Only one ELECTED president, however, was denied his party's nomination the next go-around. That was Franklin Pierce, elected in 1852. At the 1856 Democratic convention, he lost the nomination — on the 17th ballot — to James Buchanan, who had been the U.S. ambassador to Great Britain.

Other incumbent presidents who had the same fate were Chester A. Arthur, Andrew Johnson, Millard Fillmore and John Tyler. Arthur became president on Sept. 20, 1881, following the assassination of James Garfield. He lost the Republican nomination in 1884 to James Blaine on the fourth convention ballot.

Andrew Johnson, who was Abraham Lincoln's DEMOCRATIC vice president, succeeded the slain Lincoln on April 15, 1865. Johnson showed some early strength at the 1868 Democratic convention, but the nomination went to former New York Gov. Horatio Seymour.

Millard Fillmore became president when Zachary Taylor died in July 1850. Fillmore sought renomination at the Whig Party's convention in 1852 and led on the first ballot. But the convention chose Gen. Winfield Scott, a Mexican War hero, on the 53rd ballot.

Finally, John Tyler succeeded to the presidency following the death of William Henry Harrison on April 4, 1841. But Tyler, a Whig and a former Democrat, found support lacking from either party when he sought the job in 1844. The Whigs went with Henry Clay, the Democrats with James K. Polk, and so Tyler formed his own Democratic-Republican Party. But his bid went nowhere, and Tyler eventually withdrew and backed Polk.

Q: Do you know anything about comments John Kerry may have made while he was at the viewing of Ronald Reagan's casket in Simi Valley? A friend sent me an e-mail that quoted Kerry; in the interest of brevity, it was the last sentence quoted that gave me concern: "Next, we must reclaim our country from the church-goers, the middle America folks and the uneducated conservative masses." — Kris Erickson, Decorah, Iowa

A: Several people have asked this question. This apparently has been traveling around the Internet, but, like a lot of Bush and Kerry "rumors" out there, it is not true. It seems to have originated at Kerrycore.com, a parody Web site. (There's another one circulating that Bush said "feces" instead of "fetus" at a right-to-life rally in Tampa, Fla. Also not true.) For all the good the Web has brought — this column, for example — it's also enabled anonymous pranksters to plant an item on a site and then have others discover it as "fact."

Q: In one question in your Aug. 11 column, you confessed you had to turn to Donald Ritchie, the associate Senate historian, for the answer. You also mentioned that he knew the answer "off the top of his head (which is either amazingly impressive or just plain scary)." Did Mr. Ritchie have a reaction to your reaction? — Rich Mazel, Brooklyn, N.Y.

A: Actually, he did, and it was positive. Ritchie wrote, "I got a great kick out of it. I could never memorize French irregular verbs but somehow could retain the names of Garfield's cabinet. Even I find that pretty scary, but it's a useful tool for a historian."

Q: I could not help but notice the reference to Derek Jeter in the lead-up video to President Bush's convention speech. I have two questions: is the pitcher's mound the same distance for gubernatorial candidates as it is for presidential candidates? And which major leaguer holds the record for being mentioned the most times at a political convention? — Ken Berman, Potomac, Md.

A: How can you be making jokes at a time like this? My beloved Yankees, who led the Red Sox by 10-1/2 games just a few weeks ago, now hold a most precarious 2-1/2 game advantage. Kevin Brown is out, the pitching is unreliable, and you're sending jokes? Do you realize that the Yanks haven't won the World Series since 2000???

Q: Can you give me a state-by-state breakdown of electoral votes for 2004? — Eliot Sela, New York, N.Y.

A: Here's a list of how the 538 electoral votes are divided; 270 are needed for election. AL — 9; AK — 3; AZ — 10; AR — 6; CA — 55; CO — 9; CT — 7; DE — 3; DC — 3; FL — 27; GA — 15; HI — 4; ID — 4; IL — 21; IN — 11; IA — 7; KS — 6; KY — 8; LA — 9; ME — 4; MD — 10; MA — 12; MI — 17; MN — 10; MS — 6; MO — 11; MT — 3; NE — 5; NV — 5; NH — 4; NJ — 15; NM — 5; NY — 31; NC — 15; ND — 3; OH — 20; OK — 7; OR — 7; PA — 21; RI — 4; SC — 8; SD — 3; TN — 11; TX — 34; UT — 5; VT — 3; VA — 13; WA — 11; WV — 5; WI — 10; WY — 3.

More Conventional Wisdom: The Aug. 27th column talked about how presidential candidates decide what states or locales to campaign in. Following a discussion about why Vice President Cheney decided to campaign in Hagerstown, Md. — a state the Republicans are not likely to win — David Kuhn of Rockville, Md. writes that there were two factors for Cheney's visit that I omitted. The first was that the local GOP congressman, Roscoe Bartlett, was "facing a significant primary challenge, and Cheney went there to support him. But there's another reason. The Hagerstown media outlets (the Hagerstown Herald-Mail and WHAG-TV) have coverage areas that extend well into Pennsylvania and West Virginia, both contested swing states in the presidential election."

Another question in that column talked about convention delegates rejecting the running-mate choices of presidential candidates. Jay Hurwitz, a college professor in Okinawa, Japan, writes that there was a mini-rebellion at the Democratic convention in 1972, when George McGovern named Sen. Tom Eagleton of Missouri as his VP choice. Eagleton winning the required number of delegates was never in question, but six other candidates found their names placed in nomination for vice president as well: Sen. Mike Gravel of Alaska, ex-Mass. Gov. Endicott Peabody, Rep. Peter Rodino of N.J., state Rep. Sissy Farenthold of Texas, NYC advertising executive Stanley Arnold, and Clay Smothers, a black journalist from Dallas. (To add to the confusion, more than 70 different people, including Archie Bunker and Jerry Rubin, received votes during the balloting.) Hurwitz writes that his favorite moment was when a New Mexico delegate cast a VP vote for Robert Mondragon, a NM political figure. Adding to the surreal nature of what was going on, CBS' Walter Cronkite mistakenly reported the vote for Mondragon as a vote for Mao Tse-Tung (!)

This Day in Campaign History: Dick Cheney, the third-ranking Republican in the House, announces his candidacy for GOP Whip. The post is open because the current Whip, Mississippi's Trent Lott, is leaving the House to run for the Senate. Cheney, of Wyoming, will win the position uncontested later in the year and serve until President George Bush names him Secretary of Defense the following March (Sept. 8, 1988).

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