Biden’s Problem: Just One Sitting VP Elected President Since 1837

Joe Biden
AP Photo/Jae C. Hong

There is growing buzz about a potential Joe Biden 2016 presidential run, and while Hillary Clinton could stand in his way, a new analysis from Smart Politics points out that history, too, may be against him.

According to the report from Smart Politics founder Eric Ostermeier, just one sitting vice president has been elected president in the past 175 years, while seven others have run and lost. That lone sitting vice president to be elected president was George H.W. Bush in 1988.

Prior to Bush, according to Ostermeier, the last time a vice president won the presidency was Martin Van Buren in 1836. Meaning that in the past 47 presidential elections during the two-party modern era, just two sitting vice presidents have mounted presidential runs and been successful in their bids.

In all, between Bush and Van Buren, the analysis points out, six sitting vice presidents attempted a run for president but failed: John Breckinridge in 1960, Charles Fairbanks in 1908, John Nance Garner in 1940, Alben Barkley in 1952, Richard Nixon in 1960, and Hubert Humphrey in 1968. After Bush, Al Gore is the most recent failed sitting vice president turned presidential candidate.

“Overall, four sitting vice presidents have been elected to the presidency since 1789, although two of these date back prior to the ratification of the 12th Amendment when the top two vote-getters were elected president and vice president respectively,” Ostermeier writes.

Since 1789, Ostermeier highlights, Bush and Van Buren were the only two sitting vice presidents in the modern two-party era to be elected president. John Adams in 1796 and Thomas Jefferson in 1800 were elected vice president prior to the 12th Amendment.

Ostermeier concludes that should Biden pull the trigger and run, his effort would be an uphill climb based on precedent.

“But even with a wave of initial good will at his back for a 2016 campaign, Biden would face long historical odds in winning the White House from his current political perch,” Ostermeier writes.

Either way, pitting Clinton — President Obama’s former secretary of state — and Biden — Obama’s vice president — against one another will put the president in an interesting situation.

Monday White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest address the chance that Biden may run by heaping praise on the vice president. He noted that Obama has said adding Biden to the ticket in 2008 was the “smartest decision that he has ever made in politics” and indicated that he may endorse in the Democratic primary.

“I’ll just say that the vice president is somebody who has already run for president twice. He’s been on a national ticket through two election cycles now, both in 2008 and the reelection of 2012,” Earnest said. “So, I think you could probably make the case that there is no one in American politics today who has a better understanding of exactly what is required to mount a successful national presidential campaign.”