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Political Firsts on 8 November

As of today, Democratic House leader Nancy Pelosi is in line to be elected Speaker of the House when the new Democrat-controlled House convenes in January. This position puts her second in line of succession to the presidency after the Vice-President Dick Cheney. This is the first time that a woman would hold that post.

Another election first that occurred this day in 1960 was when Senator John F. Kennedy was elected the 35th President of the United States. He was the youngest president to be elected in this nation’s history, and the first Roman Catholic. He received 56.5 percent of the electoral votes, defeating Republican nominee and Vice President Richard M. Nixon. Nixon conceded the election from Los Angeles at 8:47am PST after Kennedy won Minnesota’s 11 electoral votes.1

Six years later, in 1966, another election day first was achieved on this day when Edward Brooke, the former Massachusetts Attorney General, became the first African American to be elected to the US Senate since Reconstruction. Brooke was a member of the GOP, and his election helped his party win one of three additional seats in the Senate. Brooke defeated former Massachusetts Governor Endicott Peabody. An article from the Lincoln Evening Journal & Nebraska State Journal emphasizes an interesting aspect to Brooke’s methodology:

He is not a Negro militant and the voice he will raise in Washington will be on the side of moderation, both in race relations and in the choice of a Republican candidate in 1968…One of his ambitions is to play a role in reversing the extreme militancy that has crept into the civil rights movement. He would like to eliminate the influence of the Stokely Carmichaels.2

Contrast that statement to the brutal battle that occurred this year in Tennessee’s race for the Senate between white Republican and former Chattanooga Mayor Bob Corker and black Democrat Harold Ford Jr. Ford surrendered a safe House seat to run for the U.S. Senate in an attempt to replace Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, who is leaving office at the end of the current term.

No black candidate has ever been elected to a statewide office in Tennessee, and his election to the Senate would have created a first for an African American to be elected to the Senate from the south since Reconstruction. A quote from Marcus Pohlmann, a professor of political science at Memphis’ Rhodes College, defines the attitude of a mostly Republican south:

“Whether the party or the state have come far enough to elect an African-American, I don’t know. It certainly will be an issue and a hurdle.â€Â?3

Corker won with 927,343 votes, or 51% of the vote in comparison to Ford’s 877,716 votes, or 48% of the vote. If Ford had won, the Virginia Senate race would not carry as much weight as it does now. Currently, Democrat Jim Webb leads with 7262 votes over incumbent Republican George F. Allen in that state. But, the fact that this lead represents less then 1% of the vote means that Allen can demand a recount according to Virginia state law. The possibility of a recount means that the Senate’s future is currently on hold until – at least – December.

Following the 2002 midterm elections, Harold Ford made a failed attempt to become House minority leader, a post vacated by Representative Dick Gephardt. Ironically, Ford lost to Representative Nancy Pelosi.

Other Election Firsts Today:

  • In 1892, former President Cleveland defeated incumbent Benjamin Harrison, becoming the first (and, to date, only) chief executive to win non-consecutive terms to the White House.
  • In 1983, Martha Layne Collins becomes the first woman ever elected governor of Kentucky.
  • In 1989, Virginian Douglas Wilder became the first African American to win a U.S. gubernatorial election, and, after he left office when his term expired in 1994, he was elected mayor of Richmond in 2004.

More about the current House Speaker, Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.): Hastert Will Step Down at Time.com.

1 (Star-News [Pasadena, California], 8 November 1960.)
2 (Lincoln Evening Journal & Nebraska State Journal, 8 November 1966.)
3 CNN.com, America Votes 2006, [database online at http://www.cnn.com/ELECTION/2006/].

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