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Overstating Lincoln’s Convention Comeback

John Kasich said, “I think old honest Abe went into the convention either third or fourth and came out the winner.” No. Abraham Lincoln started with the second most delegates at the 1860 Republican convention.

The Ohio governor, who has the fourth most delegates among the current and former Republican candidates for president, compared his situation to Lincoln during an April 10 interview on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”

Kasich defended his decision to stay in the race until the 2016 GOP convention in Cleveland, Ohio. Both Kasich and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz are hoping that businessman Donald Trump, the delegate leader, fails to reach the 1,237 delegates necessary to secure the nomination before the convention is held in July. That would give Kasich or Cruz a chance to win the nomination in a contested convention.

In the interview, Kasich suggested that he could still manage to become the Republican nominee the way Lincoln did over 150 years ago.

Kasich, April 10: … as you know, we’ve had  10 contested conventions, and only three times has the front-runner won and I don’t want to go back in history too far but I think old honest Abe went into the convention either third or fourth and — and came out the winner. So we’ll see.

Lincoln did come from behind to win the Republican nomination at the 1860 convention in Chicago, but he didn’t start as far back as Kasich thought.

That year, Sen. William Henry Seward of New York started ahead in the delegate count. After the first ballot vote at the convention, Seward had 173.5 delegates and Lincoln, a former U.S. representative from Illinois, had 102 delegates. The next closest candidates were Sen. Simon Cameron of Pennsylvania with 50.5 delegates; Ohio Gov. Salmon Chase with 49 delegates; and former Rep. Edward Bates of Missouri with 48 delegates. (See page 113 of the official proceedings of the convention.)

Since no one reached the 233 delegates necessary to with the nomination, a second vote was held. On the second ballot, Lincoln received votes from 181 delegates, while 184.5 delegates voted for Seward. It wasn’t until the third ballot vote that Lincoln pulled ahead with votes from 231.5 delegates while Seward received 180 votes.

Recognizing that Lincoln was just shy of the number of delegates required to win the nomination, many delegates elected to change their votes. This resulted in Lincoln winning the nomination with 364 delegates. He would then go on to win the general election in the fall and become the 16th president of the United States.

So Lincoln won the nomination after starting the convention in second place, with 22 percent of the delegates.

Kasich, on the other hand, currently has 143 delegates, or 9 percent of the delegates, with 16 primaries and caucuses to go. He even has fewer delegates than Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who dropped out of the Republican primary in March.

Although Kasich hopes he can pull out a win in a contested convention like Lincoln, he could finish like another Ohio governor.

Chase, who was governor of Ohio from 1855 to 1859, started the 1860 convention with the fourth highest number of delegates (49). On the second ballot vote, his total dropped to 42.5 delegates. And on the third ballot, he only received 24.5 delegate votes.

Even Cameron, the senator from Pennsylvania who started the 1860 convention with the third most delegates, faded away in subsequent voting. On the second ballot, only two delegates voted for Cameron, and his name was withdrawn for the third ballot vote.