Although some fear that a Jeb Bush vs. Hillary Clinton presidential contest in 2016 is inevitable, it would be very unique in one respect.
According to research conducted by an official with the University of Minnesota’s Center for the Study of Politics and Governance, a Clinton/Bush matchup would be the first time in 120 years in which neither major party nominated a sitting elected or appointed political officeholder to be their nominee.
Bush has not held political office since his second term as governor in Florida expired in January of 2007. Clinton’s last day as secretary of state in the Obama administration was February 1, 2013.
Writing in the Smart Politics blog, Eric J. Ostermeier writes that since the 1896 election between William McKinley and William Jennings Bryant, “at least one major party has chosen a sitting elected or appointed political official to be their nominee in 29 consecutive cycles, as well as 39 of the last 40 elections dating back to 1860. Even putting aside cycles with incumbent presidents, it has been quite unusual for at least one party not to nominate a sitting political officeholder in cycles without a president on the ballot — doing so in 19 of 24 such cycles since 1796.”
Of course, sitting presidents have been renominated by their party in 20 of these 29 cycles since the turn of the 20th Century: in 1900, 1904, 1912, 1916, 1924, 1932, 1936, 1940, 1944, 1948, 1956, 1964, 1972, 1976, 1980, 1984, 1992, 1996, 2004, and 2012. But Ostermeier also notes that it’s been extremely unusual for at least one party not to back a sitting political officeholder in cycles without a president on the ballot — doing so in 19 of 24 cycles since 1796.
The only other cycles in which no major party nominated a sitting appointed or elected official all occurred in the mid-19th Century: 1844, 1852, 1856, and 1868.
Needless to say, such statistics make clear how long the odds are for the two Republican candidates getting into the race today for president — Dr. Ben Carson and former Hewlett Packard executive Carly Florina. Neither have held any office or position in government.
Bush remains one of the front-runners in the 2016 contest, though the large GOP field shows that he’s not exactly intimidating other candidates by his presence at this point in the campaign.
Hillary Clinton officially entered the race last month, and finally has a challenger in Vermont U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, who announced his candidacy for the Democratic nomination last week. Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley has said that he will declare his candidacy later this month, and former Rhode Island U.S. Sen. and Gov. Lincoln Chafee is expected to announce as well. But none of them comes close to Clinton in any poll.