Archive for Sunday, October 31, 2004

Museum focuses on presidential runners-up

Loser of 2004 election to be added to collection

October 31, 2004


George W. Bush and John Kerry may not know it, but they're locked in a battle to see whose photograph will be consigned to a room above a bank in the little town of Norton.

The northwest Kansas town of 3,000 is home to the They Also Ran Gallery, a one-room shrine to men who have lost their presidential campaigns.

"We like to say, 'The winner goes to the White House and the loser goes to Norton, Kan.,'" said Diana McGee, who manages the gallery.

Samuel Tilden is there. So are Rufus King, Horatio Seymour and Winfield Hancock.

They're not all obscure. The photo gallery also includes men who lost bids for re-election -- such as Herbert Hoover and George H.W. Bush -- and men who lost before winning later, such as John Quincy Adams and Richard Nixon.

The gallery was the creation of W.W. Rouse, former president of First State Bank in Norton, which is northwest of Hays. Rouse read Irving Stone's book "They Also Ran," about presidential campaign losers in 1965.

He decided that despite their political shortcomings, these men deserved a shrine. And he thought upstairs at his bank was the perfect place to put it.

15 minutes of fame

Now, the gallery has 56 photos, with short biographies posted underneath each. Some third-party candidates were included from early years. But McGee, a bank receptionist who now looks after the room, said space was getting cramped so it's not likely Ralph Nader will make his way onto the wall after Tuesday's defeat.

The bank gets the photos from the Library of Congress. McGee figures she'll place a call to Congressman Jerry Moran's office after Tuesday's election to request a photo of the new They Also Ran Gallery inductee.

"It's fun," McGee said. "Some people just think it's really funny to have this type of museum, but history buffs find it fascinating."

Most of the time, McGee said, the room is quiet. The bank gets a handful of visitors each month who hear about the gallery through travel book listings.

The gallery received its 15 minutes of fame after the 2000 election, when nobody knew for weeks whose photo would grace the Norton wall when the election results were in limbo. PBS, NPR and a handful of newspapers across the nation picked up the story.

It even made the National Enquirer.

"It's right here on the third page," said Karla Reed, executive director of the Norton Area Chamber of Commerce. "'Gore Wins Spot on Wall of Losers.' It's pretty neat, in a warped sort of way."

The following lists the opponent who defeated the mentioned runners-up and the year they campaigned.1816 -- James Monroe defeated Rufus King.1828 -- Andrew Jackson defeated John Quincy Adams.1868 -- Ulysses S. Grant defeated Horatio Seymour.1872 -- Ulysses S. Grant defeated Horace Greeley.1876 -- Rutherford B. Hayes defeated Samuel Tilden.1880 -- James Garfield defeated Winfield Hancock.1932 -- Franklin D. Roosevelt defeated Herbert Hoover (re-election).1960 -- John F. Kennedy defeated Richard Nixon.1980 -- Ronald Reagan defeated Jimmy Carter (re-election)1992 -- Bill Clinton defeated George H. W. Bush (re-election).Ralph Nader also had unsuccessful campaigns in 1992 and 2000.

Mixed bag

Appropriately, the other main tourist draw in Norton is Station 15, a replica of an early stagecoach station where Horace Greeley stopped in 1872. Greeley, of course, lost the presidency that year.

Jeff Moran, chairman of the Kansas University history department, said the way history treated losing presidential candidates amounted to a mixed bag.

As far as reputation goes, you're better off losing the presidency altogether than winning and later losing.

"History hasn't been kind to one-term presidents," Moran said. "There's usually a good reason they're one-term presidents. If you've never been elected, you can argue that they never got to know the real you. If they know you for four years and they vote you out, they must not like you."

Losing a presidential campaign almost always amounts to the end of a political career, unless a candidate runs again. With the exception of John Quincy Adams, who went on to serve in Congress after losing re-election, that's about the only thing losers have in common.

That, and they're all featured on a wall in Norton.

"We tend to be a triumphant country, and everybody loves a winner," Moran said. "But we've still got a soft spot for the underdog. And nobody's an underdog more than those who have reached for the ultimate prize in American politics and were slapped down."

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