A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Ohio Primary and the General Election


Q: Has any presidential candidate won the general election without winning the Ohio primary?

A: Yes. Richard Nixon did it in 1968, and John Kennedy in 1960. But "favorite son" candidates won the Ohio contest both those years.

FULL QUESTION

After she won in Ohio, Hillary Clinton stated that no candidate had ever been elected president without winning the Ohio primary. I think that may be a misstatement, could you clarify that please?

FULL ANSWER

On the heels of a big win in Ohio, Hillary Clinton said in an interview that "no person has ever won the White House without winning the Ohio primary, in either party." Her campaign is pushing a slightly amended version: "No candidate in recent history, Democrat or Republican, has won the White House without winning the Ohio primary."
 
We don’t know how Clinton is defining "recent history," but you only have to go back to 1968 to find an exception. That year, Ohio Gov. James Rhodes won the state’s Republican presidential primary. But Richard Nixon went on to win the nomination and the presidency.
 
Of course, Rhodes had the advantage of the "favorite son" factor – as did Ohio Gov. Michael diSalle, who won the state’s Democratic primary in 1960. (John F. Kennedy, the eventual nominee and presidential winner, didn’t appear on the primary ballot.) In those cases, it’s certainly no surprise that a local politician would bring in a number of votes. But foregone conclusion or not, it means that Clinton’s statement is inaccurate.
 
Clinton’s claim does hold true for the last 40 years. But it may not carry as much weight as she implies. Ohio’s primaries tend to come late in the political season, meaning a narrowed field of candidates and sometimes a clear front-runner for the nomination.
 
– Jess Henig

 

Sources 

Ohio Secretary of State. Election Results, Accessed 6 Mar. 2008.

"Past Ohio Primary Results." Politics.Ohio.com, 26 Feb. 2008.

"Clinton’s Claim Leaves Out Kennedy." Associated Press, 5 Mar. 2008.