Five men who came within inches of the White House
When all is said and done almost all Presidential elections are won by fairly decisive margins. Be it James Monroe, Andrew Jackson, Franklin Pierce, U.S. Grant, FDR, LBJ or Reagan almost always there is no real contest.
One might even say that your single vote has no meaning. Except every once in a while the American public is massively split in their opinion.
Here are five contests where a shift of the most tiny number of votes could have changed the direction of the entire nation.
2000 - Gore - Bush
The 2000 election for President all came down to the state of Florida.
|Almost President Gore|
Leave aside all the BS claims about hanging chads etc. To bottom line it, nearly 6 million votes were cast and a shift of about 270 votes would have put Al Gore into the White House. That is about as close as you can get.
The election was noteworthy for a controversy over the awarding of Florida's 25 electoral votes, the subsequent recount process in that state, and the unusual event of the winning candidate having received fewer popular votes than the runner-up.
It was the fourth election in which the electoral vote winner did not also receive a plurality of the popular vote.
Nixon 1960 Campaign Ad
1960 - Nixon - Kennedy
Senator John Kennedy won Illinois by less than 9,000 votes out of 4.75 million cast, or a margin of 0.2%. A shift of 4,500 votes and Vice President Richard Nixon would have defeated Kennedy.
Nixon carried 92 of the state's 101 counties, and Kennedy's victory in Illinois came from the city of Chicago, where Mayor Richard Daley held back much of Chicago's vote until the late morning hours of November 9.
|Almost President Nixon|
The efforts of Daley and the powerful Chicago Democratic organization gave Kennedy an extraordinary Cook County victory margin of 450,000 votes—more than 10% of Chicago's 1960 population of 3.55 million, although Cook County also included many suburbs outside of Chicago's borders—thus barely overcoming the heavy Republican vote in the rest of Illinois.
Earl Mazo, a reporter for the pro-Nixon New York Herald Tribune, investigated the voting in Chicago and claimed to have discovered sufficient evidence of vote fraud to prove that the state was stolen for Kennedy
1916 - Hughes - Wilson
The result was exceptionally close and the outcome was in doubt for several days. The electoral vote was one of the closest in American history - with 266 votes needed to win, Wilson took 30 states for 277 electoral votes, while Hughes won 18 states and 254 electoral votes.
|Almost President Hughes|
The key state proved to be California, which Wilson won by only 3,800 votes out of nearly a million cast. A shift of 1,900 votes in California and Hughes would have been President.
If Hughes had carried California and its 13 electoral votes, he would have won the election.
A popular legend from the 1916 campaign states that Hughes went to bed on election night thinking that he was the newly-elected president.
When a reporter tried to telephone him the next morning to get his reaction to Wilson's comeback, someone (stories vary as to whether this person was his son or a butler or valet) answered the phone and told the reporter that "the president is asleep." The reporter retorted, "When he wakes up, tell him he isn't the president."
Rum, Romanism and Rebellion
1884 - Blaine - Cleveland
New York Governor Grover Cleveland narrowly defeated Republican former United States Senator James G. Blaine of Maine to break the longest losing streak for any major party in American political history
In the final week of the campaign, the Blaine campaign suffered a catastrophe.
|Almost President Blaine|
At a Republican meeting attended by Blaine, a group of New York preachers castigated the Mugwumps. Their spokesman, Reverend Dr. Samuel Burchard, made this fatal statement: “We are Republicans, and don't propose to leave our party and identify ourselves with the party whose antecedents have been rum, Romanism, and rebellion.”
Blaine did not notice Burchard's anti-Catholic slur, nor did the assembled newspaper reporters, but a Democratic operative did, and Cleveland's campaign managers made sure that it was widely publicized.
The statement energized the Irish and Catholic vote in New York City heavily against Blaine, costing him New York state and the election by the narrowest of margins. A shift of 600 votes out of over 1.1 million cast in New York and Blaine would have been President.
1812 - Clinton - Madison
The Presidential election of 1812 took place in the shadow of the War of 1812. It featured a race between incumbent Democratic-Republican President James Madison and former US Senator DeWitt Clinton of New York. Clinton ran on a fusion ticket with the Federalist Party Vice Presidential nominee, and Founding Father, Jared Ingersoll of Pennsylvania.
Clinton did regional campaigning, anti-war in a Northeast most harmed by the war, and pro-war in the South and West.
|Almost President Clinton|
Clinton did better than any Federalist candidate since John Adams, taking New York and New Jersey, but Madison still won the Presidency by a narrow margin.
Madison's campaign was in a near free fall. In 1808 Madison won 65% of the vote. By 1812 he managed to only get 50.4% of the popular vote.
Founding Father Jared Ingersoll was chosen for Vice President because Pennsylvania was the key to the election. Madison ended up taking the state, but a shift of only 9,827 votes would have thrown the election to the Federalist Party.
Opposing "Mr. Madison's War" the Federalists made a gain of 32 seats in the House and 4 seats in the Senate.
Madison, along with Woodrow Wilson, are the only US Presidents to win second terms with a lower percentage of the electoral vote than in their first election.