Useless information about the 2020 presidential election

Baseball writer Jayson Stark regularly writes articles from the “Useless Information Department,” filled with interesting, odd, bizarre, coincidental, or just plain silly statistics or factoids from the world of baseball. With a 120-year-plus history, a 162-game season, 250-plus pitches per game, and a lot more, there’s always some interesting connections to make.

I’ve occasionally tweeted out some of my own useless information from the 2020 presidential campaign, and I thought I’d turn that into a long form blog post. Hang on…

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Joe Biden ran—and won—as a vice presidential candidate in 2008 and 2012. But he opted not to run for president in 2016, choosing instead to run in 2020. Typically, a vice president who runs for president (and wasn’t elevated to the office of president due to a vacancy) runs either after his president stops running (e.g., Al Gore in 2000) or runs for the term immediately after losing an election seeking the office of vice president (e.g., Walter Mondale in 1984, who lost on the VP ticket in 1980).

Just four vice presidents have won a presidential election while serving as vice president—John Adams in 1796, Thomas Jefferson in 1800, Martin Van Buren in 1836, and George H.W. Bush in 1988.

So have any vice presidents skipped at least one term, then become president? Just one—Richard Nixon. Nixon was Eisenhower’s vice president and won the 1952 and 1956 elections. He ran for president in 1960 and lost. He then took 1964 off before running (and winning) in 1968. But Nixon’s case also differs, because he did try in 1960 immediately after serving eight years as Dwight Eisenhower’s vice president—but Nixon lost in 1960 and tried again later in 1968. Nonetheless, Nixon is the only vice president to later serve as a president, who was not serving as vice president when he won.

If Biden wins the 2020 presidential election, then, he’d be just the second vice president since Nixon to win a presidential election while not serving as vice president. And unlike Nixon, it’d be his first attempt to run for president after serving as vice president.

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Websites like FiveThirtyEight and 270toWin remind us that presidential candidates must secure a majority of votes in the Electoral College to win the presidential election. Obviously, Donald Trump won a bunch of electoral votes in 2016 (304 of them, to be exact). Joe Biden also won a bunch of electoral votes, 365 in 2008 and 332 in 2012, both vice presidential votes. But they’re not alone.

Elizabeth Warren received two vice presidential electoral votes in 2016, one in Hawaii and one in Washington. And Bernie Sanders received one presidential electoral vote in 2016, in Hawaii. Both came from “faithless” electors, presidential electors ostensibly committed to support Hillary Clinton when the Electoral College convened in December 2016 but who ultimately cast votes for these candidates.

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The last Democratic presidential nominee who attended neither Yale nor Harvard was Walter Mondale in 1984. (Yes, that means Michael Dukakis, Bill Clinton, Al Gore, John Kerry, Barack Obama, and Hillary Clinton all have ties to this sliver of the Ivy League.)

But none of the Democratic presidential frontrunners attended either. Joe Biden went to Delaware and Syracuse Law; Bernie Sanders went to Brooklyn College and Chicago. Dipping a little deeper into the candidates, Elizabeth Warren attended George Washington University, Houston, and Rutgers Law (although she did teach at Harvard Law). Kamala Harris went to Howard before attending Hastings Law. Of course, there’s a chance a candidate like Pete Buttigieg (Harvard/Oxford) or Cory Booker (Stanford/Oxford/Yale) pulls through and keeps the Harvard-Yale streak alive.

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Democrats may also keep another education streak alive. Since 1984, every Democratic presidential and vice presidential nominee has attended law school—Walter Mondale, Geraldine Ferraro, Michael Dukakis, Lloyd Bentsen, Bill Clinton, Al Gore, Joe Lieberman, John Kerry, John Edwards, Barack Obama, Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton, and Tim Kaine.

Attended—all but one received a law degree, the exception being Gore, who dropped out of Vanderbilt Law School before completing his Juris Doctor.

The frontrunners are a mixture of lawyers (Biden, Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, Amy Klobuchar) and non-lawyers (Bernie Sanders, Pete Buttigieg, Beto O’Rourke)—but the safe money may be on the lawyers, and it may rest with a vice presidential nominee to break the streak.*

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Before Trump, Ronald Reagan was the only 70-something to win a presidential election. That took place in his second term, and he was 73 when sworn in. Trump became the first 70-something to win a first term.

But we’re seeing a surge of septuagenarian candidates and may see that age record fall. The age of some candidates as of the next inauguration day, January 20, 2021: Bernie Sanders, 79; Joe Biden, 78; Donald Trump, 74; Elizabeth Warren 71.

For the record, Reagan was 77 years, 349 days when leaving office. The next-oldest president upon leaving office stands to be Trump—but if he completes a second term, he’d be 78 years, 221 days to edge out Reagan. And the only other 70-something to ever serve in office was Dwight Eisenhower, who left office at 70 years, 98 days.

The election of either Sanders (79 years, 134 days as of January 20, 2021) or Biden (78 years, 61 days) would immediately make that candidate the oldest person to ever serve in as president. Both are older than each of the last five Democratic presidential candidates—older than Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, John Kerry, Al Gore, and Bill Clinton. (But younger than 1988 Democratic nominee Michael Dukakis.)

Compared to recent presidential candidates popularly considered “old”? John McCain would have been 72 years, 144 days on January 20, 2009; Bob Dole would have been 73 years, 182 days on January 20, 1997.

And the combined Election Day ages of Trump-Sanders (153), Trump-Biden (152—Biden turns 78 after Election Day), or Trump-Warren (145) easily make them the oldest major party opponents in history. Reagan-Mondale, 1984 (129); Van Buren-Harrison, 1840 (124); and Dole-Clinton, 1996 (123) are among the oldest pairs of major party opponents.

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But Democrats are on pace to help break a different record. Three of the last four presidents were each born in the same year, 1946. That’s right, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Donald Trump were all born in 1946, in that first year of the “Baby Boom” after World War II. Sanders (1941), Biden (1942), and Warren (1949) all missed that birth year. So did Hillary Clinton, narrowly (1947).

Of course, there have been other 1946 presidential candidates. To name a few: 2000 Republican candidate Gary Bauer, 2004 and 2008 Democratic candidate Dennis Kucinich, 2012 Constitution Party presidential nominee Virgil Goode, and 2016 Democratic candidate Jim Webb.

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There are a number of Democratic candidates vying for the title of the youngest president. That’s currently held by Teddy Roosevelt (42 years, 322 days when he took office). Roosevelt became president after William McKinley died. For the youngest elected candidate, that goes to John F. Kennedy (43 years, 236 days).

Several candidates, including Pete Buttigieg (39 as of January 20, 2021), Tulsi Gabbard (39), Seth Moulton (42), and Eric Swalwell (40), could eclipse these marks. But they’d hardly be the youngest major party candidates in history. That belongs to Wiliam Jennings Bryan, who was just 36 when he secured the Democratic Party nomination in 1896.

Not only that, but one of these candidates might eclipse the age gap between major party opponents set by 72-year-old John McCain and 47-year-old Barack Obama in 2008, a 25-year gap. Trump will be 74 on Election Day, so anyone under 49 would set the record.

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Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is a useful foil for age comparisons. Elected to the House of Representatives in 2018, she was born October 13, 1989 and is just 29 years old—but she has an outsized influence on social media and in the Democratic Party.

This is Joe Biden’s third presidential run after failed campaigns for the 1988 and 2008 Democratic Party nominations. Biden’s first run ended in September 1987… more than two years before Ocasio-Cortez was even born.

Bernie Sanders was born 24 years after John F. Kennedy. He was also born 48 years before Ocasio-Cortez.

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By my count, 88 members of the Senate of the 93rd Congress as of January 3, 1973 have died. Of the 12 remaining, two are former presidential candidates (Walter Mondale and Bob Dole), & two are running this year (Joe Biden and Mike Gravel).

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I know, the post has focused a lot on age. But there’s so much to do with it! And maybe it’s only fitting that the oldest living former president ever is still with us (Jimmy Carter, who turns 95 in October 2019), and the one who’s lived the longest after leaving office (39 years and counting).

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*Special thanks to Brian Kalt for this detail.
Please notify me if you find any errors I ought to correct or ambiguities I ought to clarify.