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A History Of Vice Presidents Running For President


Joe Biden's entry into the presidential race is digging up comparisons with other vice presidents who have run for the higher office. Being the vice president, it might look good on the resume, but turns out, it's not always what you need to get the job done. Now, just like Walter Mondale, Joe Biden waited four years after leaving the vice president's office to become a presidential candidate. In the case of Mondale, well, he lost 49 of 50 states to Ronald Reagan.


WALTER MONDALE: And although I would have rather won, tonight, we rejoice in our democracy. We rejoice in the freedom of a wonderful people, and we accept their verdict.

GREENE: Walter Mondale there. Now, vice presidents trying to become president - that is the topic of this week's conversation with commentator Cokie Roberts. You sent us your questions, and we're going to pose them to her. And Cokie's on the line.

Hi, Cokie.


GREENE: Well, let's get right to it, Cokie. Our first listener just has a really basic question about how often this has happened.

KURT COOPER: This is Kurt Cooper from Tucson, Ariz. This seems like an early Republic, late 20th century phenomenon. Between then and now, were there that many VPs running for president?

ROBERTS: There have been a good many. Martin Van Buren in 1836 was the last sitting vice president before George H.W. Bush to have been elected. But others have run and lost. John Breckinridge lost to Lincoln in a four-way race in 1860, Henry Wallace to Truman in a four-way race in 1948. Several won after they served out a president's term, but others lost in that situation. And then you have lots of vice presidents who failed to get their party's nomination - most recently, Dan Quayle.

GREENE: All right. Well, there are some who got both their party's nomination and became president. And that's what the next question focuses on.

PAUL MCCARROL: My name is Paul McCarrol. I'm from Denver, Colo. And I'm wondering how many vice presidents have succeeded in attaining the presidency? Of those that did, how many did so in consecutive terms from the vice presidency and how many at a later date?

ROBERTS: Nine were actually elected, starting with John Adams and ending with George H.W. Bush. Five others became president when the man in the White House died or was assassinated. By the way, the first of those, David, was John Tyler. And he set the precedent for the vice president actually becoming president and moving into the White House, rather than simply assuming the powers and duties as the Constitution requires. On the second part of the question, Nixon was the only one elected at a later date than his service as vice president.

GREENE: OK. Nixon is the only one on that list. OK. We have another listener here.

RYLEY WILSON: Ryley Wilson, St. Louis, Mo. How much has the success of the president when the candidate was vice president affected their chances for the presidency?

ROBERTS: It matters a great deal as George Bush learned running, essentially, for Ronald Reagan's third term. But even with popular presidents, you have vice presidents who lose, as Richard Nixon did in 1960 and Al Gore did in the electoral college in 2000.

GREENE: All right, we have one more question here. It's from Kyle Baiter. He wrote, has any such vice president been actively opposed by the president they served under?

ROBERTS: Yes, Thomas Jefferson (laughter).


ROBERTS: He ran for president against the man he served under - John Adams. That was the famous election of 1800 and the beginning of partisan presidential elections. We've certainly had a lot of partisan elections since then. It took Eisenhower a while to campaign for Nixon. But that Adams-Jefferson race was a really rough one, David - good to keep in mind that politics hasn't just recently gotten nasty.

GREENE: Set it in the historic context - commentator Cokie Roberts.

Cokie, we always appreciate it. Thanks.

ROBERTS: Always nice to talk to you.

GREENE: And you can ask Cokie your questions about topics like this - how politics and government work. Just tweet us. Use the #AskCokie.

(SOUNDBITE OF JUPITER JAX'S "ROAD RAGE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.