BAYHAM: Louisiana And The Quest For The White House

While stumping for the Republican nomination in Peterborough, New Hampshire back in 2000,  US Senator John McCain joked that he hailed from Arizona, the home of failed White House aspirants Barry Goldwater, Mo Udall and Bruce Babbitt thus it was the one state where parents did not tell their kids that one day they could grow up to be president.

As Bobby Jindal begins the official launch of his own White House run, it would be appropriate to take a look at the sons of the Pelican State who entertained their own presidential aspirations and the one “adopted son” who actually lived at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue (albeit briefly).

Louisiana’s lone claim on the presidency is Zachary Taylor, and it is a tenuous one at that.  One of only two Whigs to ever be directly elected to the presidency, Taylor won national fame as a general in the Mexican-American War defeating an army led by General Santa Anna of Alamo infamy at the battle of Buena Vista.  Taylor’s army inflicted almost three times the casualties his own force suffered.

The Whig Party, looking to exploit Taylor’s military fame, nominated him on the fourth ballot at their 1848 convention but according to presidential historian William DeGregorio, it took a while for “Old Rough and Ready” to accept the party nod as they had sent  official word of his nomination without postage, a tradition at the time.

Taylor won the popular vote with a plurality of 47% while his Democratic opponent Lewis Cass of Michigan won 43% of the popular vote, with the balance going to former president and Free Soil Party nominee Martin van Buren.

Though finishing a distant third, van Buren would ultimately play a critical role in the outcome as the 26% he won in his home state of New York divided the Democratic vote and allowed Taylor to win the state and election, as its 36 electoral votes provided the difference between the two major party candidates.

Taylor was born in Virginia and grew up near Louisville, Kentucky though spent time in Louisiana during his early days in the military, including in eastern St. Bernard Parish.  Taylor bought a plantation in Louisiana and resided in Baton Rouge at the time of his election to the presidency.

Taylor did not live in the White House long, dying the year after he took the oath of office, and his remains were buried in his family plot in Kentucky.

The advent of the Civil War, Reconstruction and its incorporation into the Democratic Solid South bloc made the relatively small state of Louisiana a less than ideal place for a major party to find a national candidate.

In 1916 the national Progressive Party of Theodore Roosevelt picked Louisianan John Parker, who had made a strong bid for governor against the Democratic nominee earlier that year, to be their vice-presidential nominee along with TR, though the former president decided to rejoin the GOP and the party folded thereafter.

Though he never made an actual run for president, Huey Long was the closest thing to a national political force to ever come out of Louisiana and there is little doubt the Kingfish would have run for the top office had he not suffered a mortal wound during the melee with Dr. Carl Weiss in the State Capitol basement.

It’s not a coincidence that the governor’s mansion that was built under Long had a strong resemblance to the White House.  Long even wrote a book titled My First Days in the White House where he named his dream cabinet.

President Franklin Roosevelt was so concerned over a challenge from Long that his top political aide James Farley conducted a national poll to measure the depth of the Louisianan’s national appeal.

The next Louisiana governor to get the national political bug was John McKeithen.  A “favorite son” candidate going into the 1968 Democratic National Convention, McKeithen endorsed fellow LSU graduate and sitting vice-president Hubert Humphrey early to increase his chances of getting tapped for the party’s second spot.  Humphrey went to the northeast for his running mate, McKeithen went home disappointed and Louisiana went to George Wallace in the 1968 general election.

Supposedly even Edwin Edwards had national aspirations of a sort in 1976.  That year two southern governors (George Wallace and Jimmy Carter) sought the Democratic nomination yet Edwards got behind the candidacy of California governor Jerry Brown, who had emerged as Carter’s strongest rival towards the end of the primaries.  The word was that had Brown won the nomination, EWE was on his short list of potential running mates.

Two of Edwards’s future gubernatorial opponents would throw their respective hats in the ring for the presidency.

In 1988 former KKK Grand Wizard David Duke entered the Democratic presidential primaries as a minor candidate.  Duke finished ninth in the New Hampshire primary and his high-water mark was in Louisiana where he garnered 3.7%, finishing far behind Jesse Jackson (who carried the state with 36%) and four other candidates.  Duke ended up receiving fewer votes nationally than Lyndon LaRouche.

After switching to the Republican Party later that year and winning a special election to the Louisiana House of Representatives in 1989, Duke began to attract international publicity through a surprisingly competitive bid for US Senator in 1990 and having made a runoff for governor the following year.  His legislative term ending, Duke attempted to parlay his national exposure into becoming the leading voice of protest against the renomination of President George H.W. Bush in the Republican primaries.

His late entry, a determined effort by the GOP to keep him off the ballot and the emergence of syndicated columnist Pat Buchanan as Bush’s main intraparty rival largely muted Duke’s second presidential run.  Duke’s best showing was in Mississippi with 10%.

The odd man out in the 1991 “Race from Hell”, incumbent governor Buddy Roemer was said to have harbored a desire to run for the presidency at some point.  Young and charismatic, Roemer jumped from the Democratic Party to the GOP mid-term and perhaps had an eye on the 1996 nomination. His re-election loss in 1991 scuttled whatever hopes he had entertained then though Roemer enjoyed somewhat of a political revitalization when his former House colleague McCain recruited him as a surrogate and state leader for his 2008 presidential campaign.

Roemer picked up McCain’s “campaign finance reform” standard and declared his candidacy for the White House in 2011.  Focusing his bid on a strong performance in New Hampshire, Roemer aggressively stumped the Granite State though his $100 contribution per person limit hampered his ability to raise his profile and he was not invited to participate in any of the GOP debates.

Roemer dropped out of the Republican primaries early, explored a third party bid and then endorsed the Libertarian Party presidential candidate former New Mexico governor Gary Johnson.

However Roemer did have something that none of the other Louisiana presidential aspirants aside from President Taylor could show at the end of their bids: a delegate vote for president.  During the roll call at the 2012 Republican National Convention Roemer received a write-in vote from a member of the Texas delegation.



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