Mock Convention and Real History

April 26, 2016

Who is James G. Blaine?

Today, that could be a winning “answer” on Jeopardy. But 132 years ago, James Blaine was big news. He was the Republican presidential candidate in 1884, narrowly losing the election to Grover Cleveland. It marked the first time since 1860 that a Republican did not win the White House.

More significantly to Ohio Wesleyan, James Blaine was the first presidential candidate nominated at OWU’s Mock Convention. His selection marked the first of nine times (so far) that the OWU students’ selection matched the nominee chosen at the national convention. For vice president, OWU nominated Robert Todd Lincoln, the eldest son of Abraham Lincoln and the secretary of war at the time.

Mock Convention brings together Ohio Wesleyan students, faculty, and staff, as well as members of the Delaware community for a two-day educational and social experience. Participants learn about the upcoming election’s candidates, important national issues, and more about the political process. Previous political experience is not required.

From the first Mock Convention through 1968, all but the 1932 convention aligned with the Republican Party. Beginning in 1972, OWU decided to hold conventions for the party not currently in office. The 1980, 1996, 2012, and 2016 conventions were Republican, and the conventions in 1972, 1976, 1984, 1988, 1992, 2004, and 2008 were Democratic.

The complete history of Mock Convention is detailed in a paper, “Mock Presidential Nominating Conventions at Ohio Wesleyan, 1884-2008,” by Professor Emeritus Earl Warner and updated by Craig Ramsay, professor emeritus of politics and government.

Warner notes that the most contentious Mock Convention may have occurred in 1924, when OWU failed to nominate a candidate. He writes that the “convention was carefully planned under the auspices of the Republican, Social Science, and Liberal clubs.” However, 60 delegates favoring Sen. Robert LaFollette, R-WI, left the convention, making it impossible for any candidate to win the requisite number of votes. The 60 delegates banded together to form the ‘Liberal Party of America,’ and nominated LaFollette. (At the Republican National Convention held later that year in Cleveland, the nomination went to Calvin Coolidge, with 1,065 delegates to LaFollete’s 34 delegates.)

Only once did OWU students correctly predict both the presidential and vice presidential candidates. This happened in 1984, when OWU nominated former Vice President Walter Mondale and Congresswoman Geraldine Ferraro.