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Hillary Clinton needs a history lesson

March 5, 2008 |  6:43 pm

Hillary Clinton's exuberance about Ohio is perfectly understandable; her convincing win there on Tuesday propped her back on her feet in the hunt for the Democratic presidential nomination. Still, she's gotten a little carried away in touting the state's political importance.

In her victory speech in Columbus, she rightfully characterized it as "a bellwether state ... a battleground state." Then she sent us scurrying to the history books with this claim: "And no candidate in recent history, Democrat or Republican, has won the White House without winning the Ohio primary."

Well, it depends on what your definition of "recent history" is.

In Ohio's 1960 primary (Clinton was 12 at the time), the man who won the White House later that year, John Kennedy, took a pass on the contest. Instead, the Democratic delegates initially were pledged to a favorite son, then-Gov. Michael DiSalle.

Similarly, favorite sons in both the Democratic and Republican primaries won in 1964 and 1968 (a time line creeping ever closer to "recent history").

Since then, it appears Clinton was correct -- but in a very technical way. As Andrew Cayton, a history professor ...

at Miami University in Ohio, noted to the Washington Post, the state's primaries typically have been held at a point in the process where the likely nominee has surfaced in each party (and not so long ago, most expected that would be the case this year).

Clinton, in her round of stops today at the various morning news shows, continued to promote Ohio as having out-sized influence. "If you cannot win in Ohio, you cannot win the presidency," she said in one interview.

True enough for Republicans -- as virtually every political reporter knows by heart, since the GOP was founded in the 1850s, not one of its nominees has ever won the White House without carrying Ohio.

Among Democrats, however, Kennedy ended up taking the inaugural oath despite losing Ohio to Richard Nixon, and Franklin D. Roosevelt won his fourth -- and final term -- in 1944 despite losing the state to Thomas Dewey.

Those are the only two times since 1900 that Ohio found itself in the wrong column in a presidential race -- an impressive record, to be sure.

But the same could be said for Missouri, which over that time frame backed a presidential loser only in 1900 (opting for Democrat William Jennings Bryan instead of the Republican incumbent, William McKinley) and in 1956 (favoring Democrat Adlai Stevenson over another GOP incumbent, Dwight Eisenhower).

Spotlighting Missouri's prowess wouldn't serve Clinton's purposes, though, since Barack Obama narrowly won its primary on Feb. 5.

Enough with Ohio, anyway; soon we'll be hearing how Pennsylvania is renowned for its sagacity.

-- Don Frederick