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Five losing candidates who came closest to becoming a president

November 6, 2012 by NCC Staff


A look at back at famous elections shows that some men came with a few votes of becoming a U.S. president, only to have victory snatched from their grasp.


Charles Evans Hughes

In five cases, the candidates weren’t able to run again for the highest office in the land and become president.


But determined candidates like Andrew Jackson and Richard Nixon recovered from defeat and rebuilt their political careers. Each man won two subsequent presidential elections.


And Grover Cleveland, who lost his second election in the Electoral College, came back for a third race to become a two-term president.


Aaron Burr was the first candidate to come so close to the presidency. And in the oddest angle, Burr wasn’t even running for president in 1800 to begin with—he was running for vice president. But due to a voting mistake within his own party, Burr tied with Thomas Jefferson for the most electoral votes.


Rather than let his party’s candidate, Jefferson, win in a runoff election in the House, Burr decided to fight for the presidency himself. Jefferson prevailed with the help of Alexander Hamilton.


The elections of 1876 and 1880 were two of the closest in American history.


The race between the Democrat, Samuel Tilden, and the GOP’s Rutherford B. Hayes in 1876 caused a constitutional crisis, when Tilden came within one electoral vote of victory and the remaining electoral votes were contested.


It took a 15-person commission to decide the race for Hayes, even though Tilden won the popular vote by a 3 percent margin.


In 1880, James Garfield won a clear Electoral College majority, but he barely beat Winfield Hancock in the popular vote.


Hancock lost the popular vote by 0.9 percent in another heartbreaking defeat for the Democrats.


Largely forgotten today is the contentious 1916 presidential race between the Democratic incumbent, Woodrow Wilson, and Charles Evans Hughes, a Supreme Court justice.


Wilson won the popular vote by 3 percent, but the electoral college race was in doubt for days after the election.


Hughes lost by 23 electoral votes after Wilson won California by just 3,800 votes. The GOP candidate went to bed on Election Night believing he was the new president.


The New York Times also declared Hughes as the president, unaware of the outcome in California.


The most recent near-miss presidential candidate is Al Gore, the former vice president who won the popular vote in 2000.


George W. Bush took the Electoral College after the Supreme Court ruled in his favor about disputed votes in Florida.


The outcome of that election and the court’s decision is still debated today.


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