Northwest national candidates through the ages

Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin is hardly the first from this corner of the country to run for one of the highest offices, but those who made it to the general election are relatively few.
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Oregon Sen. Joseph Lane (1801-1881). He ran for vice president in 1860 as a Southern Democrat. (Wikipedia)

Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin is hardly the first from this corner of the country to run for one of the highest offices, but those who made it to the general election are relatively few.

Gov. Sarah Palin is the first Alaskan to appear on a national party's ticket, but the Pacific Northwest has been in this game since 1860, the election that brought Abraham Lincoln to the White House and the Civil War to the nation.

That momentous election featured two Democratic parties, one from the North (Sen. Stephen Douglas and Herschel V. Johnson) and one from the South (Vice President John Breckenridge and Sen. Joseph Lane of Oregon).

Breckenridge and Lane carried 11 slave-holding states, nine from the solid South, plus Maryland and Delaware, worth 72 electoral votes. The Northern Democratic party won only Missouri, although its popular vote of 1.4 million was closest to Lincoln's 1.9 million. A fourth party, the Constitutional Union under John Bell, carried three border states.

Lane, a North Carolina native and a legislator in Indiana, was appointed governor of the Oregon Territory in 1848, by President James Polk. Lane later served as a territorial representative in the U.S. House, and when Oregon became a state in 1859 he was elected one of its senators. His pro-slavery stance cost him his political career; despite strong Southern sentiments in parts of rural Oregon, the state supported Lincoln in 1860. Lane retired from politics and died in 1881 in Roseburg.

Oregon also has the only other Northwest nominee for a national ticket. Sen. Charles McNary was the vice-presidential nominee with Wendell Willkie on the Republican ticket in 1940. McNary was a major national figure, serving in the Senate from 1917 to 1944 and as Republican leader from 1933 to 1944, when he died in office. Despite their political differences, McNary and President Franklin D. Roosevelt worked closely together, a partnership that helped forge the Northwest's hydroelectric system.

McNary had not supported Willkie in the run-up to the Republican convention; his support for public power and the Tennessee Valley Authority was contrary to Willkie's backing of private power. In the campaign, McNary campaigned primarily in farm states.

The Northwest claims partial ownership, so to speak, of only one president. Herbert Hoover was an Iowa native, but when he was orphaned as a young boy he went to Oregon, where he was raised in Newberg by an uncle. He attended Friends Pacific Academy (now George Fox University) in Newberg and went on to Stanford to take an engineering degree in the university's first class. Newberg keeps the Hoover home as an historic museum.

After the two-plus national candidates, the Northwest claims a number of candidates who ran for president, but only Washington's Sen. Henry "Scoop" Jackson was a serious contender and in 1976 was an early favorite for the Democratic nomination.

Jackson first ran for president in 1972, but he had been strongly considered for vice president by John F. Kennedy in 1960, before Kennedy chose Lyndon Johnson. In 1972, Jackson's campaign was brief, and he dropped out after a Florida primary in which he invested great hope but finished third as maverick George Wallace carried the state.

In 1976, Jackson, by now a national figure and foreign-policy hawk, was an early favorite, but he bypassed Iowa and saw that state propel Jimmy Carter from governor of Georgia to front-runner. Jackson carried Massachusetts and New York but failed to stop Carter in Pennsylvania and dropped from the race.

That same year, Idaho Sen. Frank Church, also a major foreign-policy figure, entered some of the late Democratic primaries and carried Oregon, Idaho, Nebraska, and Montana. He was on Carter's short list for vice president, passed over for Walter Mondale.

Idaho's other historic figure in the Senate, William E. Borah, also had a brief fling at the White House, in 1936 running as a Republican representing the party's progressive roots. Borah rejected the conservative element of the party and in 1932 and 1936 refused to vote for either party's nominee. In 1936, he carried only Wisconsin but picked up handfuls of delegates elsewhere. The "Lion of Idaho" served in the Senate from 1907 to his death in 1940.

Oregon Sen. Wayne Morse made a brief bid in 1960 for the Democratic nomination, running in Oregon, Maryland, and the District of Columbia primaries but failing to generate support in any of the three.

Former Alaska Sen. Mike Gravel has a place in the listing after his brief run for the Democratic presidential nomination this year, which failed to garner support. In March, he switched his presidential hopes to the Libertarian Party and in May finished fourth at the Libertarian national convention and announced his political career had ended.

The only other Northwest politician to have a serious shot at the national ticket was Oregon Sen. Mark Hatfield in 1968, when he was on Richard Nixon's short list for vice president. Hatfield, an outspoken opponent of the Vietnam War, lost out to the Southern wing of the party, which supported Maryland Gov. Spiro Agnew. Hatfield was in the Senate from 1967 to 1997 and chaired the Senate Appropriations Committee during Republican control of the Senate.


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About the Authors & Contributors

Floyd McKay

Floyd McKay

Floyd J. McKay, professor of journalism emeritus at Western Washington University, was a print and broadcast journalist in Oregon for three decades.