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Hillary and Jeb Break All the Rules

Jonathan Bernstein is a Bloomberg View columnist. He taught political science at the University of Texas at San Antonio and DePauw University and wrote A Plain Blog About Politics.
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Hillary Clinton appears to be on track to set a modern record in this presidential cycle. Unless Jeb Bush does it instead.  

The category is: longest gap for a presidential nominee since the last time he or she appeared on a ballot.

Clinton, the presumptive Democratic nominee, last ran for office in 2008, so she’ll have an eight-year break. You have to go back to Dwight Eisenhower, who had never run for office before he won the presidency in 1952, to find a longer "gap." 

Since 1952, three major-party nominees -- Jimmy Carter, Richard Nixon (in 1968) and Barry Goldwater -- had not been on a ballot for six years. Thirteen of them had last run for some office four years earlier. This doesn’t include incumbent presidents seeking election.  Five candidates had been on a ballot two years earlier.  

But no one in at least the last half-century has done what Clinton is trying to do.  

This makes what Jeb Bush is trying to accomplish even more unusual. He last ran for office in 2002, winning his second term as governor of Florida -- a 14-year gap. 

If Clinton has been hurt by her time away from electoral politics, it hasn't shown up in her chances of winning the nomination. Bush has hit some bumps, but so has Scott Walker, who has run for (and won) office five times since the last time Bush ran for anything.

It isn't clear if the gaps in the Clinton and Bush record are just flukes, reflecting their unique positions, or if something systematic is going on.  Bush is a long way from being the top contender or even a close runner-up for the Republican nomination (as is Mike Huckabee, who would tie Clinton with an eight-year electoral gap).

Maybe this is just trivia. But if both Clinton and Bush are successful in getting their party's nomination, their example might inspire others who have been out of office for a long time to jump into future contests -- a trend that would further increase the pool of potential presidents.

  1. Why so many in the four-year category? Seven of them last ran for either president or vice president, four years before they were re-nominated or nominated for president.

  2. Looking back a bit further, through 1912, adds a few interesting Republican gaps. Wendell Willkie, the 1940 nominee, had never run for office. Herbert Hoover had contested the 1920 nomination before winning it in 1928. And the 1916 Republican choice Charles Evans Hughes had last run for office in 1908. 

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To contact the author on this story:
Jonathan Bernstein at jbernstein62@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor on this story:
Katy Roberts at kroberts29@bloomberg.net