The last time a presidential election was held in which neither ticket included a former military service member, the Chicago Cubs had just played in the World Series, Al Capone was furnishing his prison cell, and a gallon of gas cost a dime.
For the first time in decades, it could happen again. (And we're not talking about a winning season for the Cubbies.) Of those rumored to be on Mitt Romney's short list for vice president, only one, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, has served in the military. McDonnell attended the University of Notre Dame on an Army ROTC scholarship and served on active duty in Grafenwohr, Germany, and Newport News, Va., until 1981. McDonnell remained in the Army Reserves, and retired as a Lt. Colonel 16 years later.
Since 1944, at least one of the presidential candidates for a major party has spent time in the military. Neither President Barack Obama nor Vice President Joe Biden were eligible for the draft lottery established in the latter years of the Vietnam War. Obama was 8 years old when the lottery began in 1969, and Biden was 28, making him too old. Earlier, Biden received five education deferments and a 1968 physical examination determined that he was unfit to serve due to a history of asthma. Romney was eligible, but received four deferments, first as a student and then for his mission work in France for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Of course, all could have enlisted in the service voluntarily at some point in their lives if they wanted to.
To find a time when military experience wasn't provided by any candidate on the ticket, you have to go back to 1932, when John Nance Garner joined Franklin D. Roosevelt's campaign against Herbert Hoover and Charles Curtis. (Roosevelt did serve as Assistant Secretary of the Navy, a civilian position, during the Wilson administration.)
Most of those campaigning in recent years for the job of commander-in-chief had military experience: John McCain attended the U.S. Naval Academy and was held prisoner while fighting in Vietnam. John Kerry fought in Vietnam and George W. Bush served in the Air National Guard. Al Gore was a specialist in the Army, and both Bob Dole and George H.W. Bush fought in World War II. Walter Mondale was an Army corporal from 1951-53; Ronald Reagan was an Army captain and Jimmy Carter spent time as a lieutenant in the Navy.
The New York Times this week unveiled a helpful infographic that charts the careers of eight possible contenders for the Republican vice presidential slot that includes McDonnell, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, South Dakota Sen. John Thune, Ohio Sen. Rob Portman, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty and Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan. For most, their years before their first election were spent as private attorneys, lobbyists and businessmen.
Not included in the Times piece were female possibilities, including New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte, Washington Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers and New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez. None of these women served either, although Ayotte and McMorris Rodgers are both married to retired servicemen.
This article has been updated to provide more information about Biden's deferments before the Vietnam lottery draft.
- Politics & Government
- Bob McDonnell
- Mitt Romney
- President Barack Obama
- Vice President Joe Biden