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Butler County not reliable as selector of presidents; Ohio 34 out of 39 since 1856

GOP win streak at 11 straight in county

Butler County not reliable as selector of presidents; Ohio 34 out of 39 since 1856

Compiled by Jim Blount

When it comes to presidential elections, Ohioans have voted for national winners 34 times in 39 contests between Republicans and Democrats since 1856. That’s the year the two groups emerged as the nation’s major political parties.

In 28 elections since 1900, the state has supported 26 victors. The exceptions were Thomas Dewey in 1944 and Richard Nixon in 1960, both Republicans.

During the previous century, 1856-1896, the eventual U. S. losers who won the state were Democrat James Buchanan in 1856 and Republicans James Blaine in 1884 and Benjamin Harrison in 1892.

Butler County’s record for boosting winners isn’t as impressive. In 11 contests in the last half of the 1800s, only twice did county winners take the oath of office the following year. Both times it was Democrat Grover Cleveland in 1884 and 1892.

Since 1900, the county has done better in reflecting the national consensus. It has backed the national victor in 18 of 28 elections -- or 64.3% from 1900 through 2008.

Democratic candidates won 17 straight presidential elections in Butler County from 1856 through 1924. Starting with Dwight D. Eisenhower’s 1952 win, Republicans have dominated 14 of the last 15 votes, including 11 in a row.

The following chronological list states the national winner, followed by Butler County and Ohio outcomes:

++ 1856 -- James Buchanan (D) over John C. Fremont (R) and former president Millard Fillmore (American Party). Buchanan won Butler County; Fremont took Ohio.

++ 1860 -- Abraham Lincoln (R) over Stephen A. Douglas (D), John C. Breckinridge (Southern Democrat) and John Bell (Constitutional Union). Douglas was the county victor; Lincoln had 51.2% of state vote.

++ 1864 -- Abraham Lincoln (R-Union) over George B. McClellan (D). Butler County favored McClellan, a former Civil War general. Lincoln’s Ohio support increased to 56.3%.

++ 1868 -- Ulysses S. Grant (R) over Horatio Seymour (D), who prevailed in Butler County while Civil War hero Grant won the state of his birth..

++ 1872 -- Ulysses S. Grant (R) over Horace Greeley (D), the county winner. Grant won Ohio again.

++ 1876 -- Rutherford B. Hayes (R) over Samuel J. Tilden (D). Butler County went for Tilden. Hayes, an Ohioan, won the state by a 1.14% margin, 50.21% to 49.07%.

++ 1880 -- James A. Garfield (R) over Winfield Hancock (D). Butler County backed Hancock while Ohio supported its native son, Garfield, who experienced a political whirlwind in 1880 (explained below).

++ 1884 -- Grover Cleveland (D) over James G. Blaine (R). Cleveland was the winner in the county, Blaine in the state.

++ 1888 -- Benjamin Harrison (R) over Grover Cleveland (D). The county majority went to Cleveland, who lost the state by 13/100ths of a percentage point, 47.66% to 47.53%. Nationally, Cleveland won the popular vote, Ohio-born Harrison in the Electoral College.

++ 1892 -- Grover Cleveland (D) over Benjamin Harrison (R). For the 10th straight time, Butler County voted Democrat, helping to return Cleveland to the White House. Harrison again won the state.

++ 1896 -- William McKinley (R) over William Jennings Bryan (D). The county’s favorite was Bryan. Ohioan McKinley won Ohio, two years before the Spanish-American War..

++ 1900 -- William McKinley (R) over William Jennings Bryan (D). The outcome mirrored 1896; Bryan in the county, McKinley in the state.

++ 1904 -- Theodore Roosevelt (R) over Alton B. Parker (D). TR captured 59.75% of Ohio votes; Parker won Butler County.

++ 1908 -- William Howard Taft (R) over William Jennings Bryan (D). For the third time, Bryan was the more popular candidate in the county. Taft, a Cincinnatian, triumphed in Ohio.

++ 1912 -- Woodrow Wilson (D) over Eugene V. Debs (Socialist), William Howard Taft (R) and Theodore Roosevelt (Progressive). Wilson won the county and the state in a contest against a sitting president and a former president. In Ohio, it was Wilson 40.96%, Taft 26.82%, Roosevelt 22.16% and Debs 8.69%. Wilson’s 40.96% is the second lowest winning percentage in an Ohio presidential election.

++ 1916 -- Woodrow Wilson (D) over Charles E. Hughes (R). Wilson won the advantage in the county and the state, five months before the U. S. entered World War I.

++ 1920 -- Warren G. Harding (R) over James M. Cox (D) in a race involving two Ohioans. Cox won his native Butler County. Harding won 58.47% of the state vote. It was the 17th straight Butler County victory for the Democratic Party’s candidate in the county.

Thanks to ratification of the 20th amendment earlier in the year, 1920 was the first time women voted for president.

++ 1924 -- Calvin Coolidge (R) over John W. Davis (D) and Robert M. LaFollette (Progressive). Coolidge was the first Republican to carry Butler County after 17 Democrat wins, 1856-1920. He won 58.33% of Ohio’s votes. The results were broadcast on local radio for the first time in 1924.

++ 1928 -- Herbert Hoover (R) over Alfred E. Smith (D). Hoover made it two straight for the Republican Party in the county. Statewide, his backing was 64.89%, the highest for any candidate in Ohio since D and R competition began in 1856. The Butler County Board of Elections introduced a technological advance in 1928 -- adding machines to total votes.

++ 1932 -- Franklin D. Roosevelt (D) over Herbert Hoover (R). The county and the state supported FDR as he won the first of his four presidential elections during the third year of the Great Depression. In the state, 49.88% of the vote went to the Roosevelt, 47.03% to Hoover.

++ 1936 -- Franklin D. Roosevelt (D) over Alfred M. Landon. It was FDR in the county and the state. He won 57.99% of Ohio votes, until then the highest for a Democrat candidate in Ohio since D and R competition began in 1856.

++ 1940 -- Franklin D. Roosevelt (D) over Wendell Wilkie (R). On the eve of World War II, FDR also won Butler County and Ohio.

++ 1944 -- Franklin D. Roosevelt (D) over Thomas Dewey (R). It was FDR’s fourth win in the county. Dewey barely won Ohio, 50.18% to 49.82%.

++ 1948 -- Harry Truman (D) over Thomas E. Dewey (R). Truman also won in the county and the state. His Ohio margin was 24/100ths of a percentage point, 49.48% to 49.24%.

++ 1952 -- Dwight D. Eisenhower (R) over Adlai Stevenson (D). Eisenhower, a hero of World War II, began the Republican domination in Butler County and won a convincing 56.76% of Ohio’s ballots during the third year of the Korean War. The campaign, conventions and election are considered the first covered nationally by television.

++ 1956 -- Dwight D. Eisenhower (R) over Adlai Stevenson (D). Ike repeated county and state victories, increasing his Ohio support to 61.11%, an all-time high at that point.

++ 1960 -- John F. Kennedy (D) over Richard M. Nixon (R). County and state majorities were won by Nixon. Nixon’s 62.63% of Ohio is still the Republican percentage record.

++ 1964 -- Lyndon B. Johnson (D) over Barry Goldwater (R). LBJ also triumphed in the county and the state (62.94%). Johnson is the last Democrat to win in the county. He didn’t seek re-election in 1968 because of the controversial Vietnam War.

++ 1968 -- Richard M. Nixon (R) over Hubert Humphrey (D) and George Wallace (AIP). Nixon topped the field in the county and state. The Ohio split was 45.23% Nixon, 42.45% Humphrey and 11,81% Wallace. It was the first presidential election when voting machines were used throughout Butler County.

++ 1972 -- Richard M. Nixon (R) over George McGovern (D). Nixon coasted in the county and state, gathering 59.63% of Ohio votes.

++ 1976 -- Jimmy Carter (D) over Gerald Ford (R). Butler County favored Ford, but Ohio gave Carter a slim edge -- 27/100ths of a percentage point -- 48.92% to 48.65%.

++ 1980 -- Ronald Reagan (R) over Jimmy Carter (D). Reagan defeated the incumbent president in both the county and the state.

++ 1984 -- Ronald Reagan (R) over Walter Mondale (D). Reagan won the county (a record 72.9%) and in Ohio (58.9%).

++ 1988 -- George H. W. Bush (R) over Michael Dukakis (D). Bush topped the voting in the county and the state.

++ 1992 -- Bill Clinton (D) over George H. W. Bush (R) and H. Ross Perot. The county backed Bush, but Clinton had a slight advantage in the state, 40.18% to 38.35% for Bush and 20.98% for Perot. Clinton’s 40.18% is the lowest winning percentage in an Ohio presidential election.

++ 1996 -- Bill Clinton (D) over Bob Dole (R). The county favored Dole. Ohio’s electoral votes went to Clinton, who had 47.38% of the state total. Dole had 41.02% and Perot 10.66%.

++ 2000 -- George W. Bush (R) over Al Gore (D) and Ralph Nader (Green). Bush, the son of President George H. W. Bush, swept 63.3% of the county vote. He also won the state. Ohio percentages were Bush 49.97%, Gore 46.46% and Nader 2.5%. On the national level, Gore had 48.4% of the popular vote, Bush 47.97%. But in the Electoral College, it was 271-266 in Bush’s favor with Florida’s contested 25 electoral votes the deciding factor. "One of the closest and most controversial presidential elections in history" -- spiced by recounts and court challenges -- was decided 5-4 by the U. S. Supreme Court.

++ 2004 -- George W. Bush (R) over John Kerry (D). Again, the county (66%) and state were won by Bush. It was close at the state level, 50.81% for Bush, 48.71% for Kerry, a difference of 2.1 points. It was the first election after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorists attacks on the United States.

++ 2008 -- Barack Obama (D) over John McCain (R). McCain scored the 11th straight GOP victory in Butler County, but Obama won the state, 51.38% to 46.80%.

Butler County presidential connections

Franklin D. Roosevelt (D) won Butler County four times, 1932-1944. Three-time winners were Grover Cleveland (D), 1884, 1888 and 1892; William Jennings Bryan (D), 1896, 1900 and 1908; and Richard M. Nixon (R), 1960, 1968 and 1972.

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Herbert Hoover (R) is the only repeat candidate to carry the county in one election (1928), but not when he sought a second term (1932), losing locally to Franklin D. Roosevelt (D). Hoover had topped Alfred E. Smith (D) in 1928.

* * * * *

The most popular Democrat in Butler County, based on vote percentage, was Grover Cleveland who won 62.3% of the ballots in 1884 against James G. Blaine, 64.3% in 1888 against Benjamin Harrison and 63.5% in 1892, again against Harrison. Cleveland won the presidency in 1884 and 1892, but lost to Harrison in 1888.\

The most lopsided Republican victory in the county was 1984 when 73.2% voted for Ronald Reagan in a contest with Walter Mondale. When Reagan won his first term in 1980 he had 61.9% of the vote in denying President Jimmy Carter a second term.

* * * * *

Based on numbers, President Barack Obama’s 62,871 votes in 2008 is the highest Butler County total for a Democrat, but he was second that year to the 101,537 cast for Rerpublican John McCain (R) in local voting.

The most votes for a GOP candidate was in 2004 when George W. Bush amassed 108,735 in the county. He had won in 2000 with 86,587 when 138,922 votes were cast in the county presidential election.

* * * * *
The closest Butler County presidential contest -- a 349-vote separation -- was in 1904 when Democrat Alton B. Parker, 7,397 votes, defeated Republican Theodore Roosevelt, 7,048 votes. Roosevelt was the incumbent and was re-elected nationally. As vice president in 1901, Roosevelt moved into the White House upon the assassination of William McKinley, who was shot Sept. 6, 2001, and died Sept. 14.

* * * * *

At least one president had Hamilton in-laws. William Henry Harrison, elected as a Whig in 1840, resided in North Bend, Ohio, on the Ohio River in western Hamilton County. Two of his children married residents of Hamilton. Harrison had an earlier local connection. He claimed to have been the officer who raised the first flag over Fort Hamilton when it was completed Sept. 30, 1791. The 68-year-old Harrison died April 4, 1841, his 32nd day in office.

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At least two Butler County natives have been presidential candidates, both unsuccessful. John Granville Woolley, born in Collinsville, was the Prohibition Party candidate in 1900. James M. Cox, born in Jacksonburg, headed the Democratic Party ticket in 1920. His vice presidential running mate was Franklin D. Roosevelt

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Abraham Lincoln had some county connections, the most notable being the author of his first campaign biography in 1860. William Dean Howells -- later a writer of international repute -- spent his boyhood years, 1840-1848, in Hamilton, leaving when he was 11 years old.

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A future president served an "exile" in Hamilton. Andrew Johnson of Tennessee -- the only southern senator who remained loyal to the Union when the Civil War started in 1861 -- resided in Hamilton with Lewis D. Campbell during part of the summer and fall of 1861. Because he opposed secession, he was unable to return to his home state after it seceded June 8, 1861. Johnson and Campbell became friends when they served together in Congress. Campbell’s residence in 1861 was at the southeast corner of High and South Second streets. Johnson was elected vice president in 1864 and succeeded Abraham Lincoln after his April 15, 1865, assassination.

* * * * *
James A. Garfield had a busy political year in 1880. He was serving his ninth term in the U. S. House when elected to the U. S. Senate Jan. 13, 1880, by the Ohio legislature, effective March 4, 1881. He was elected president Nov. 4, 1880.

He resigned from the House Nov. 8 and officially declined the Senate appointment Dec. 23, 1880. His presidential inauguration was March 4, 1881. Nineteen presidents have served in the House, but Garfield is only sitting member of the House to be elected president.

Why was Garfield elected to the U. S. Senate by Ohio lawmakers? That’s how senators were selected until ratification of the 17th amendment in 1913 mandated popular election.

Garfield was one of two Ohio presidents assassinated. The other was McKinley. Garfield was shot July 2, 1881, and died 11 weeks later, Sept. 19, 1881. Ohio presidents who died of natural causes while in office were William Henry Harrison, 1841, and Warren G. Harding, 1923.

* * * * *

The "Miami Ticket" in 1892 included candidates for president and vice president who had graduated from Miami University in Oxford. Benjamin Harrison, the incumbent president, was a member of the Class of 1852. His running mate, Whitelaw Reid, graduated in 1856. It’s the only time in U. S. political history that both the presidential and the vice presidential nominees of a major party graduated from the same university. The "Miami Ticket" lost to Grover Cleveland, who had won the 1888 popular vote, but lost to Harrison in the Electoral College.

Benjamin Harrison, who was elected from Indiana, was born in North Bend, Ohio. He was the grandson of William Henry Harrison, who had been elected in 1840.

* * * * *

Butler County’s only First Lady was Caroline (Carrie) Scott Harrison, wife of President Benjamin Harrison. She was born Oct. 1, 1831, in Oxford and died of tuberculosis in the White House Oct. 25, 1892, only days before her husband failed to win a second term.

* * * * *

Elijah (Lige) Halford was born in England, but his family moved to Hamilton where, upon the death of his father in 1856, the teenager became a printer’s apprentice at the Hamilton Intelligencer. He quickly became a writer and six years later moved to an editor’s post in Indianapolis. He became a friend and political supporter of Benjamin Harrison.

When Harrison was elected president in 1888, Halford was appointed his private secretary, comparable to White House chief of staff today. At $3,250 a year, Halford controlled the flow of visitors and information into the Oval Office and directed a 24-person staff. At the end of his term, Harrison rewarded Halford with a lifetime appointment as a paymaster in the U. S. Army with the rank of major.

* * * * *

Several incumbents and candidates have made campaign stops in Butler County, including brief whistle stops from the rear of a train. But Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Oct. 16, 1936, stop was unusual. His train halted on the Baltimore & Ohio just north of Overpeck for more than an hour -- from about 6:45 to 8 a.m. -- so the president could sleep. The Overpeck layover had been planned, but not announced to the public. The previous day, the Secret Service had requested assistance from Sheriff John C. Schumacher, who provided deputies to guard the train. The rest stop came during a 10-day, 5,000-mile campaign train tour.

* * * * *

A Hamilton whistle stop may have been the turning point in the 1948 election when President Harry Truman -- who inherited the office April 12, 1945, when FDR died -- was considered a decided underdog to his Rerpublican opponent, Thomas E. Dewey.

The polls favored Dewey before the Truman campaign train arrived at Fourth and High streets Oct. 11, 1948. The early morning crowd, according to reporters aboard the train, rejuvenated Truman. Biographer David McCullough said "the sight of 10,000 people spilling out in all directions in Hamilton" caused "the most striking change in the Democratic candidate’s demeanor."

* * * * *
Butler County voters haven’t been too responsive to presidential candidates born in Ohio. Ulysses S. Grant, born in Ohio and elected from Illinois, lost twice in the county. Benjamin Harrison, born in Ohio and elected from Indiana, also lost twice. Ohioans William McKinley and William Howard Taft each lost twice to other candidates. That’s 0 for 8.

The only Ohioan favored by county voters was James M. Cox in 1920, but the county native lost nationally to another Buckeye, Warren G. Harding. That was the only time the candidates of both major parties have been from the same state.

Presidential candidates with 60% or more of Butler County votes

73.2% *Ronald Reagan (R) 1984
68.5% *Richard Nixon (R) 1972
68.5% *George H. W. Bush (R) 1988
66%   *George W. Bush (R) 2004
64.7% *Herbert Hoover (R) 1928
64.3% Grover Cleveland (D) 1888
64.2% Samuel B. Tilden (D) 1876
63.5% *Grover Cleveland (D) 1892
63.3% *George W. Bush (R) 2000
63.2% *Dwight D. Eisenhower (R) 1956
62.5% Horace Greeley (D) 1872
62.3% *Grover Cleveland (D) 1884
62.1% Winfield Scott Hancock (D) 1880
61.9% *Ronald Reagan (R) 1980
60.8% John McCain (R) 2008
60.1% *Franklin D. Roosevelt (D) 1936
60%   Horatio Seymour (D) 1868

* National winner