Not a fresh face. 

Hillary's Biggest Foe Is History

Francis Barry writes editorials on politics and U.S. domestic policy for Bloomberg View. He was director of public affairs and chief speechwriter for New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg. He is the author of “The Scandal of Reform: The Grand Failures of New York City’s Political Crusaders and the Death of Nonpartisanship.”
Read More.
a | A

If Hillary Clinton runs for the White House and wins, she would make history -- not only as the first female president, but also as the first Democratic candidate since before the Civil War to win the presidency after a failed first run for the office.

Hubert Humphrey (1968), George McGovern (1972) and Al Gore (2000) all ran for president at least once before securing the Democratic Party's presidential nomination -- and all lost in general elections.

Lyndon Johnson won the presidency in 1964 after losing out on the party's nomination at the 1960 convention, but he was a sitting president in 1964, not an aspirant. The last non-incumbent Democrat to come back from a losing bid to win the presidency was James Buchanan (the bachelor president) in 1856, four years after a divided convention denied him the nomination, settling instead on a compromise candidate, Franklin Pierce.

Does this bit of trivia doom Clinton's chances in 2016? Of course not. But it does tell us something about Democratic presidential voters in general: They tend to like fresh faces. Six of the last seven non-incumbent Democrats to be nominated for president (Barack Obama, John Kerry, Bill Clinton, Michael Dukakis, Walter Mondale and Jimmy Carter) have been first-time candidates, as were John Kennedy, Adlai Stevenson and Franklin Roosevelt.

On the Republican side, the situation is reversed: Since 1944, only four Republicans have won the party's nomination without having previously sought it, and each either held national office (Richard Nixon in 1960 and Gerald Ford in 1976) or had national name recognition (war hero Dwight Eisenhower in 1952 and presidential scion George W. Bush in 2000). All other Republican nominees -- Thomas Dewey, Barry Goldwater, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bob Dole, John McCain and Mitt Romney -- won the party's nomination on their second or third try.

Republican voters, it would seem, aren't as eager as Democrats to take chances on newcomers. That makes sense: They're more conservative. In 2016, however, there will be no Republican candidate holding national office. Only one rumored candidate, Jeb Bush, is a national name, and he will not have as clear a path to the nomination as his brother did in 2000, given his vulnerabilities with the party's base.

At least two possible contenders have previously sought the White House (Mike Huckabee and Rick Perry), but both have real weaknesses and could join the list of Republicans who have run multiple times (Steve Forbes, Pat Buchanan, Ron Paul and others) without winning the nomination.

If Bush runs, some first-time aspirants may take a pass on the race. They should think twice. Republican and Democratic primary voters could flip roles in the 2016 primaries, with Republicans voting for fresh blood. If they do, it would be the first time since Wendell Willkie in 1940 that Republicans nominate a first-time candidate who is not a national figure.

No matter who wins the nomination, first-time Republican candidates will have an opportunity to introduce themselves to voters, gaining a familiarity that -- if history is any guide -- will be helpful to them in 2020 or 2024. As with the Democrats, there is no reason to think that Republican voters won't return to their usual modus operandi in future elections.

So a word of advice to the increasingly long list of potential first-time Republican presidential candidates: Run. And to those eyeing a primary run against Clinton: In the Democratic Party, patience can sometimes be a virtue.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg View's editorial board or Bloomberg LP, its owners and investors.

To contact the author on this story:
Frank Barry at

To contact the editors on this story:
Frank Barry at
Christopher Flavelle at