Romney tries to match a rare feat


Correction: This article originally omitted James K. Polk, who won the presidency in 1844 despite losing his home state of Tennessee by 0.1 percentage points to Henry Clay.

If Mitt Romney wins the nomination, he may face an uphill battle in winning the presidency because of an obscure historical oddity: Presidents who lose their home state rarely win the presidency.

Considering that Barack Obama won Massachusetts by nearly 26% over John McCain in 2008, it seems almost certain that the incumbent will win the Bay State, where Romney was governor, again in 2012.

There have been only two presidents who have lost their home state and gone on to win the presidency: the first was Democrat James K. Polk, who narrowly lost Tennessee to Kentucky’s Henry Clay, a Whig, in 1844. The other was Democrat Woodrow Wilson, who failed to win New Jersey in his 1916 reelection bid against Republican Charles Evan Hughes (Wilson won New Jersey in 1912).

Wilson and Polk aside, a presidential nominee’s failure to win his home state has always proven fatal, sometimes agonizingly so: in 2000, for instance, Florida wouldn’t have made a bit of difference in the outcome if Democrat Al Gore had carried his home state of Tennessee (he lost it by about four points to Republican George W. Bush).

Chart 1 shows how major presidential candidates have performed in their home states:

Chart 1: Major presidential candidates and their home states

Note: Bolded candidates won election. The list includes candidates that garnered over 5% of the popular vote or won electoral votes as announced candidates.
Source: Elections results and home states based on data from Dave Leip’s Atlas of U.S. Presidential Elections.