Deadlocked Presidential Nominating Conventions Have Led to Surprising Results


Share on Facebook


Republican Party insiders are worried about a deadlocked nominating convention in the fall and the damage it potentially could inflict on the party's nominee.

"The GOP presidential nominating contest is not a battle between former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney and former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum – it’s a race between Romney and a deadlocked national convention,” writes Felicia Sommez in the “Washington Post.”

Jim Talent, a Romney adviser, framed the delegate race as one in which voters are faced with two distinct alternatives when he appeared recently on “MSNBC.”

“This has really become sort of a race between Mitt Romney and a deadlocked convention, because those are the two alternatives,” Talent said. “Either we grind it out, and I think we will, and get to the necessary total, or the convention is going to be deadlocked, which doesn’t benefit anybody but Barack Obama.”

“Now the alternative, again, Speaker [Newt] Gingrich’s campaign said this today is their strategy is to create a deadlocked convention, which gives Barack Obama the summer off. “It means that Republicans are shooting at each other all summer long. I mean, that doesn’t benefit anybody but the president.”

The upcoming Republican Convention would not be the first to be deadlocked.

The 1932 Democratic National Convention,held in Chicago, Illinois 1932.  was a deadlocked convention.that  resulted in the nomination of Governor Franklin Roosevelt of New York for President and Speaker of the House John Nance Garner of Texas for Vice-President. Beulah Rebecca Hooks Hannah Tingley was a member of the Democratic National Committee and Chair of the Democratic Party of Florida. She seconded the nomination of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, becoming the first woman to address a Democratic National Convention.

The three major contenders for the presidential nomination were Roosevelt, Garner and former governor of New York and 1928 presidential candidate, Al Smith. They roughly represented three competing factions of the Democratic Party. Smith was supported by the Tammany Hall machine in New York City, and had many supporters in the Democratic National Committee, as well as in Chicago. Chicago Mayor Anton Cermak packed the hall with Smith supporters.

Roosevelt was supported by a majority of the delegates. The New Deal  Democratic coalition would begin at this convention: Roosevelt brought into the Democratic fold western progressives, ethnic minorities, rural farmers, and intellectuals.

Garner had support from newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst and Senator William Gibbs McAdoo. He was never a serious threat, and never bothered to campaign for the position. However, the faction that supported Garner was important because it could break a potential deadlock between Smith and Roosevelt.

After three ballots, Roosevelt had not secured the two-thirds vote necessary for the nomination. Smith believed the delegates were anxious about a deadlocked convention, and attempted to stampede all the delegates' votes toward his surrogate, Cleveland Mayor Newton D. Baker. The stalemate lingered for several day until a late night call was made by leading Democrat Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr. (then a Roosevelt supporter) to Hearst. Kennedy reminded Hearst that if the convention continued in the same way, Smith or Baker would be nominated, two people who embodied all the political beliefs diametrically opposed to Hearst's own. Kennedy managed to convince Hearst to notify Garner to bow out of the race, and to support Roosevelt. When McAdoo learned of this decision, he threw California's delegates to Roosevelt, and the other states fell in line behind Roosevelt.

In “the “History of Party Conventions,” Beth Rowen writes, “Presidential conventions have come a long way since the days when delegates and party leaders would emerge from smoke-filled rooms, battle weary after hours of negotiating over platforms and presidential nominees.

“That's not to say the process has improved. On the contrary, since the dawn of television, the conventions have diminished in importance and are now essentially choreographed, made-for-television events that double as free TV time for candidates…”.

She cites, the 1924 Democratic  Convention and the 103 ballots that led to the moniation of John W. Davis. “In 1924, Democrats cast 103 ballots before nominating John W. Davis, and in 1860 Stephen Douglas was finally selected after 59 ballots (and two conventions). Deadlock at the 1844 Democratic convention resulted in the selection of "dark horse" candidate James K. Polk, who was chosen on the ninth ballot, even though he wasn't nominated until the eighth.”

Slavery proved to be a divisive issue at the 1860 Democratic Convention.

“The Democrats were bitterly divided in 1860 over the slavery issue. When delegates adopted Stephen Douglas' plank that supported nonintervention with slavery in the territories, several delegates from the South bolted from the Charleston, South Carolina, convention in protest.


Visit your local library to obtain these resources:


Emergence of the Presidential Nominating Convention, 1789–1832
Chase, James S. (1973).

Presidential Elections in the United States: A Primer (PDF)
Congressional Research Service. (April 17, 2000).

Traitor to His Class: The Privileged Life and Radical Presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt
H.W. Brands, (2009).

No Ordinary Time: Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt: The Home Front in World War II
Doris Kearns Goodwin, (1995).
well written popular joint biography

FDR: A biography
Ted Morgan, (1985).
well written popular biography

Jean Edward Smith, (2007).

Online Resources

History House: Conventional Wisdom

Online NewsHour: Interview with Historian Michael Beschloss on the origins of the convention process

Republican National Convention 2004:

Convention History

Creative Commons License


Post new comment

  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <cite> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd><img>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.

More information about formatting options

This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.
Enter the characters shown in the image.
Refresh Type the characters you see in this picture.
Type the characters you see in the picture; if you can't read them, submit the form and a new image will be generated. Not case sensitive.  Switch to audio verification.