15 candidates who won the Iowa caucus, but lost the presidency — and the 3 presidents who won both

insider@insider.com (James Pasley)
  • Since 1972, the Iowa caucuses have been the first time Americans vote for a potential president.

  • The outcome can change presidential races. The winner gets a spurt of momentum and media attention. But the majority have not gone on to be president.

  • Only three politicians have won a contested Iowa caucus and become president — Jimmy Carter, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama.

  • Visit BusinessInsider.com for more stories.

Iowa is no guarantee, but it promises momentum.

The Iowa caucuses, which have only been around since 1972, are the first time voters have a say in who could be the next president. As Alex Altman wrote for Time, "Iowa is the kind of place where a candidate can win on sweat and gas money." This year's Iowa caucuses are on Monday night.

Only three politicians have won a contested Iowa caucus and become president — Jimmy Carter, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama.

But 15 others have won Iowa and not become president. The other times, sitting presidents won the caucuses when they were running unopposed, or with little competition.

Carter's 1976 presidential run was the first time the Iowa caucuses changed everything. He campaigned vigorously on the ground, and by winning Iowa, he turned an unlikely run into a successful presidential campaign by harnessing the media's attention.

It happened again in the 2008 election. Before the caucuses, Obama was trailing Hillary Clinton, but the early victory was enough to bolster his reputation, and by Super Tuesday, he had taken the lead in polls.

Here are all of the contested Iowa caucus winners and what happened to them after winning.

In 1972, Democrat Sen. Edmund Muskie won the Iowa caucuses, but didn't get the party's nomination. A number of factors led to his faltering campaign, but one event that's often referred to was a press conference where he started crying. He claimed it was melted snow. Regardless, the outburst hurt his chances.

Sen. Edmund S. Muskie gives victory sign at a


Sources: US News, Politico

In 1976, Republican Gerald Ford won the Iowa caucuses. It was the first time Republicans held a caucus in Iowa. Ford got the party's nomination, but he lost to Jimmy Carter in the presidential race.

American President Gerald Ford, with his hand over his chest, sings to the accompaniment of a brass band while on the campaign trail at the Iowa State Fair, Iowa, October 1976.

Dirck Halstead/The LIFE Images Collection / Getty

Source: The Atlantic

In 1976, Democrat Jimmy Carter won the Iowa caucuses, with 27% of the vote. He got the Democratic nomination, and became president. According to The Atlantic, his early victory, built upon intense local campaigning, changed how Iowa impacted a presidential campaign. Before winning Iowa, he wasn't taken seriously, but after he won, the media portrayed him as a real candidate.

Jimmy Carter campaign


Sources: The Atlantic, The Conversation

In 1980, Jimmy Carter won the Iowa caucuses again with 59% of the vote. He got the Democrat nomination, beating Ted Kennedy, but he lost the presidential race to Ronald Reagan.

Jimmy Carter reacts to applause after his speech to the Democratic National Committee in Washington, May 26, 1979.


Sources: CBS News, The Guardian, Los Angeles Times 

Also in 1980, Republican George H.W. Bush won the Iowa caucuses, beating Reagan by about 2,000 votes. He called it the "Big Mo," but he didn't get the party's nomination. Reagan called his loss in Iowa the "kick in the pants" he needed to win.

George Bush waves to acknowledge the applause of Iowa voters in the St. Augustin's precinct of Des Moines after he won a majority of votes there, Jan. 21, 1980.

Jim Mone / AP

Sources: The Week, The New York Times

In 1984, Democrat Walter Mondale comfortably won the Iowa caucuses with 48% of the vote. The New York Times called it "the most commanding lead ever recorded in a presidential nominating campaign by a non-incumbent." He got the Democratic nomination, but lost the presidential race to Reagan.

Democratic presidential candidate Walter Mondale addressed the Land OLakes Inc., annual meeting, Tuesday, Feb. 22, 1983, Minneapolis, Minn.

Jim Mone / AP

Sources: Slate, Washington Post  

In 1988, Democrat Dick Gephardt won the Iowa caucuses. It didn't come easily. He spent 150 days campaigning across the state, and even had his mom move to Des Moines. He later dropped out of the race, after running out of money and public support. Michael Dukakis got the Democrat nomination.

Rep. Dick Gephardt speaking during his campaign for 1988 Democratic presidential nomination.

Diana Walker /The LIFE Images Collection / Getty

Sources: Los Angeles Times, Politico

On the Republican side in 1988, Sen. Bob Dole won the Iowa caucuses with 37% of votes. According to NBC News, he "crushed" Bush in Iowa. But Bush regained momentum, and Dole didn't get the Republican nomination.

Sen. Bob Dole Republican candidate for the nomination for President waves his hand while addressing a group of supporters at the Cape Girardeau Airport in Missouri Monday, March 8, 1988.

James A. Finley / AP

Sources: USA Today, NBC News, CNN

In 1992, Democrat Tom Harkin won the Iowa caucuses with more than 76% of votes. He had a singular advantage, since he was Iowa's senator and had lived there for half a century. But by March, his campaign was out of money, and he dropped out of the race. Bill Clinton went on to become president.

Sen. Thomas Richard

Maureen Keating /CQ Roll Call / Getty

Sources: Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, Los Angeles Times

In 1996, Republican Bob Dole won the Iowa caucuses for a second time. It was a weaker victory than last time, yet Dole got the Republican nomination. He later lost to Clinton in the presidential race.

Kansas Senator Bob Dole gives a happy thumbs-up to supporters at a caucus event in Clive, Iowa, Monday, Feb. 12, 1996.

Charlie Neibergall / AP

Sources: CNN, The New York Times

In 2000, Democrat Al Gore won the Iowa caucuses, carrying all 57 primary and caucuses and securing the Democrat nomination. But he lost the presidential race to George W. Bush, in a close race that resulted in a 36-day recount, before Gore withdrew.

Vice President Al Gore speaks during a rally Saturday, Oct. 9, 1999, in Des Moines, Iowa.

John Gaps III / AP

Sources: Vox, CNN

On the Republican side in 2000, George W. Bush won the Iowa caucuses with about 31% of votes. He secured the Republican nomination, and became president.

Republican presidential hopeful Texas Governor George W. Bush speaks in front of an American flag during a rally for the Cedar Rapids Community 22 January 2000 in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Bush is campaigning in the state before the 24 January 2000 Iowa caucus.

Timothy Clary / AFP / Getty

Sources: The New York Times, CNN

In 2004, Democrat John Kerry won the Iowa caucuses. He ousted Howard Dean, who had been the frontrunner until then, and got the party's nomination. Commentators said Kerry won because voters thought he was the best bet to beat George W. Bush. But he lost to Bush in the presidential race.

Democratic presidential hopeful Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry signals to supporters as he finishes speaking at the Iowa Democratic Party's annual Jefferson-Jackson Dinner, Saturday Nov. 15, 2003, in Des Moines, Iowa.

Charlie Neibergall / AP

Sources: The New York Times, NPR

In 2008, Republican Mike Huckabee won the Iowa caucuses with 34.4% of votes. He won seven other primaries, but lost the Republican nomination to former Sen. John McCain — who had come in fourth in Iowa.

Republican presidential hopeful former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, left, is joined by his wife Janet at a victory party in Des Moines, Iowa, Thursday, Jan. 3, 2008, after being declared the winner of the Iowa Republican caucus.

Evan Vucci / AP

Sources: Washington Post, NBC News, The New York Times

In 2008, Democrat Barack Obama won the Iowa caucuses, with 38% of votes. Before the win, he was trailing Hillary Clinton, but the victory was enough to bolster his campaign. He won the party's nomination, and became president in 2008.

Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., applaudes the crowd at an after caucus rally at the Hy Vee Center after winning the Iowa democratic presidential caucus Thursday Jan. 3, 2008 in Des Moines, Iowa.

J. David Ake / AP

Sources: Vox, PBS, CNN

In 2012, Republican Rick Santorum won the Iowa caucuses, with 24.6% of votes. He narrowly beat Mitt Romney by 34 votes. But he dropped out of the race in April, and Romney got the party's nomination.

Republican presidential candidate, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, seen with his Karen, left, addresses supporters at his Iowa caucus victory party in Johnston, Iowa.

Charlie Riedel / AP

Sources: Washington Post, Washington Post

In 2016, Democrat Hilary Clinton won the Iowa caucuses beating Bernie Sanders by the smallest margin ever — 0.3%. She was the first woman to secure the Democratic party's nomination, but lost in the presidential race to Donald Trump.

Democratic presidential candidate former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton takes the stage during her caucus night event in the Olmsted Center at Drake University on February 1, 2016 in Des Moines, Iowa.

Win McNamee/Getty

Sources: Wall Street Journal, The Guardian

In 2016, Republican Ted Cruz won the Iowa caucuses, with nearly 28% of votes. He won the state through heavy grassroots campaigning. Cruz beat Trump by 4%, but Trump got the Republican nomination, and went on to become president.

Republican presidential candidate, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, speaks during a caucus night rally, Monday, Feb. 1, 2016, in Des Moines, Iowa. Cruz sealed a victory in the Republican Iowa caucuses, winning on the strength of his relentless campaigning and support from his party's diehard conservatives.

Chris Carlson / AP

Sources:The New York Times, Politico, Time

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