Kathy Kiely ’77’s story about Princetonians who have run for the White House (feature, Oct. 26) was a fascinating look at the impact the University has had on politics. But let’s not be too hasty patting ourselves on the back — for every Princetonian who won the White House or made a major mark on history, there is another alumnus whose presidential candidacy sunk like a stone.
Starting in the 1800s, William Dayton 1825, the GOP’s first vice presidential nominee in 1856, ran for president four years later, but only 14 delegates voted for him. Two Princetonians were dark-horse candidates at the 1868 Democratic convention — former New Jersey Gov. Joel Parker 1839 and Frank Blair 1841, scion of a powerful Missouri political dynasty. Parker’s candidacy never got anywhere; Blair managed to parlay his support into a vice presidential nomination, but he and his running mate, Horatio Seymour, won only six states in the fall.
In the 20th century, George Gray 1859, a former senator serving as a U.S. circuit court judge, attracted some attention at the 1904 Democratic convention as a less-scary alternative to William Randolph Hearst, but the convention ultimately nominated another obscure judge, Alton Parker. In 1928, two Princetonians — former Ohio Sen. Atlee Pomerene 1884 and Huston Thompson 1897, who had chaired the Federal Trade Commission — tried to stop Al Smith from winning the Democratic nomination. Smith beat Pomerene in the Ohio primary that year by more than 40 points, and Thompson finished dead last in the sole ballot that the Dems held at their convention. Ohio Gov. George White 1895 fared a little better at the 1932 Democratic convention, but his 52 delegates were only good enough for fourth place.
In 1936, anti-New Deal businessman Henry Breckinridge 1907 ran a quixotic campaign against Franklin Roosevelt in the primaries and got thumped badly in every contest he entered. Maryland Gov. Daniel Brewster ’46 did win his state’s primary in 1964 by a small margin, but only as a surrogate for Lyndon Johnson (LBJ didn’t want to run the risk of losing to George Wallace, who was also on the ballot). More recently, former Delaware Gov. Pete du Pont ’56 ran for the 1988 GOP nomination, but dropped out after winning only 10 percent in the New Hampshire primary.
Princeton doesn’t fare any better in vice presidential history. Six Princetonians — Blair, Dayton, Richard Rush 1797, John Sergeant 1795, Amos Ellmaker 1805, and Theodore Frelinghuysen 1804 — were on major-party tickets between 1824 and 1868. All lost. No Princeton alum has been a major-party running mate since then.