Hoosiers Who Hit the Trail

Each President’s Day, our country recognizes and honors the lives of the nation’s head of state. Though the third Monday in February originally recognized first U.S. President George Washington’s birthday, it is now popularly viewed as a day to celebrate all U.S. presidents, past and present. While only two Hoosiers have taken up residence in the White House — former Indiana Territory governor William Henry Harrison, and his grandson, longtime Indianapolis resident Benjamin Harrison — Indiana has produced many high-profile presidential and vice-presidential candidates. Notably, 12 major-party vice presidential candidates have called the state home, second in the nation only to New York with 14, according to the Indiana Historical Society. Celebrate some of our past commander-in-chiefs and those who fell just short of a seat in the Oval Office with this list of Hoosiers who have campaigned for U.S. president and vice president.

Charles Fairbanks

A U.S. senator from Indiana 1897-1905 and the 26th vice president under Theodore Roosevelt, Indianapolis resident Fairbanks made a strong attempt to secure the Republican party presidential nomination in 1908, even collecting 40 votes at the national convention. The incumbent Roosevelt ran away with the nomination, using his popularity to secure the vice-presidential nomination for Fairbanks’ successor, William Howard Taft. Fairbanks was nominated again as the GOP’s vice-presidential candidate to run with Charles Evans Hughes in 1916, but the pair narrowly lost to Democrat Woodrow Wilson and running mate Thomas Marshall.

Mike Pence

Though Pence hasn’t run for president, the Columbus, Indiana, native secured the Republican vice-presidential nomination in 2016 and 2020 and served as the 48th vice president under President Donald Trump. Pence is also a U.S. Congressman from 2001-2013 and served as the 50th governor of Indiana from 2013 to 2017

Thomas Marshall

Marshall served as the governor of Indiana from 1908-1913. Seizing on his popularity in the Democratic party, Marshall campaigned for president in 1912, but lost to the aforementioned Wilson on the 46th ballot. The two struck a deal to have Marshall serve as Wilson’s running mate in return for his support of Wilson, to which Marshall agreed. The pair would secure victory against a divided Republican party, with Marshall becoming the country’s 28th vice president and serving two terms with Wilson until 1921.

Eugene V. Debs

Terre Haute native Debs was a presidential candidate for the Socialist Party five times between 1900 and 1920. He is most known for his last run in 1920, which he conducted from prison while serving a 10-year sentence for sedition for speaking out against World War I’s military draft. His 913,693 votes that year were, at the time, the most ever received for a Socialist Party candidate.

Wendell Willkie

A native of Elwood, Indiana, Willkie ran for president three times between 1932 and 1944, twice as a Democrat and once as a Republican after changing his party affiliation in 1939. The closest Willkie ever came to the White House was in the 1940 election; although he didn’t officially run, he secured the Republican nomination as a dark horse candidate since he had never held public office. He would end up losing to incumbent Franklin D. Roosevelt, who secured an unprecedented third term in office. 

Vance Hartke

The River City’s most prominent politician to enter the race for U.S. president, Hartke served one term as Evansville’s mayor from 1956 to 1958 and then was a three-term Democratic senator. He ran unsuccessfully for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1972, withdrawing shortly after the first set of primaries. In the 1976 election, Hartke lost his U.S. Senate seat to Indianapolis Mayor Richard Lugar. 

Richard Lugar

Indianapolis native Lugar had his own unsuccessful bid for president, running for the GOP nomination in 1996. Lugar was the longest-serving member of Congress in Indiana’s history, holding office for 36 years from 1977 to 2013, and was the Senate’s most senior Republican when he left office in 2013 at age 80.

Birch Bayh

Most known for being the author of Title IX legislation and two Constitutional amendments, Senator and Terre Haute native Bayh sought the Democratic presidential nomination in 1976, but dropped out after four and a half months following poor early primary finishes. Bayh served in the Senate until 1981, when he lost his re-election bid to eventual vice president Dan Quayle.

Benjamin Harrison

Harrison was the country’s 23rd Chief of State from 1889 to 1893. Harrison, the grandson of the aforementioned former President William Henry Harrison, served as a Republican senator before winning the GOP presidential nomination in 1888. He defeated incumbent President Grover Cleveland in the general election despite losing the popular vote but would fall to Cleveland when Harrison ran for reelection in 1892.

Dan Quayle

Quayle never campaigned for president but was a Republican U.S. congressman and senator throughout the 1980s before serving as the nation’s 44th vice president under President George H.W. Bush. He and Bush reclaimed the nomination in 1992 but ultimately lost in the general election to Democrat Bill Clinton and running mate Al Gore.

Pete Buttigieg

One of the most recent Hoosiers to throw his name in the ring for president, the former mayor of South Bend came just shy of the Democratic party nomination in the 2020 election. Though he doesn’t command the country’s Executive Branch, he is still a part of it: Buttigieg currently serves as Secretary of Transportation in President Joe Biden’s administration.

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Jodi Keen
Jodi Keen
Jodi Keen is the managing editor of Evansville Living and Evansville Business magazines.

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