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Almost President: The Men Who Lost The Race But Changed The Nation Hardcover – December 6, 2011

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Editorial Reviews


“[An] engaging study of men who came up short in the presidential arena but still had a significant effect on the life of the nation….”  

          —Wall Street Journal


“Scott Farris shines a welcome spotlight on the neglected subject of presidential also-rans. In this impressive new book, Farris shows that the losers and their ideas have sometimes transformed their political parties, and moved the nation ahead. Meticulously researched, Almost President is rich in detail and anecdotes, and a pleasure to read.”

—Joseph Wheelan, author of Mr. Adams’s Last Crusade: John Quincy Adams’s Extraordinary Post-Presidential Life in Congress and Libby Prison Breakout


“Scott Farris has penned a series of fascinating portraits of candidates who triggered sea changes in our political process. Informative to readers at all levels.”

—David Pietrusza, author of 1948: Harry Truman’s Improbable Victory and the Year that Transformed America


“To those demoralized by today’s fiercely partisan political arena, take heart! Scott Farris’s superb history of losing Presidential candidates reassures us all that even out of bitter campaigns and defeats, losers do come back and contribute profoundly to major realignments, decency, and equality in American politics.” 

—The Honorable David Abshire, former Ambassador to NATO, and current President, Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress

“Farris writes with a lively flair, skillfully illustrating his solid historical research with revelatory anecdotes and facts.” –Publishers Weekly

“A lively, opinionated examination of the instructive role of the loser in presidential races…. [R]iveting, sympathetic treatments…. A most useful aide-mémoire for situating the upcoming presidential slugfest.” —Kirkus Reviews

From the Inside Flap

“I would rather be right than be president.”
—Henry Clay, 1824, 1832, 1844 presidential runner-up
Henry Clay is one of a dozen men profiled in the chapters of Almost President, men who have run for the American presidency and lost but who—even in defeat—have had a greater impact on our history than many of those who have served in the Oval Office. Veteran political journalist Scott Farris tells the stories of these legendary figures, from Clay to Stephen Douglas, from William Jennings Bryan to Thomas Dewey, and from Adlai Stevenson to Al Gore. He also includes concise profiles of every major candidate nominated for president who never reached the White House but who helped promote the success of American democracy.
Farris explains how Barry Goldwater achieved the party realignment that had eluded FDR, how George McGovern paved the way for Barack Obama, and how Ross Perot changed the way all presidential candidates campaign. There is Al Smith, the first Catholic nominee for president; and Adlai Stevenson, the candidate of the “eggheads” who remains the beau ideal of a liberal statesman. And Farris explores the potential legacies of recent runners-up John Kerry and John McCain. The book also includes compact and evocative portraits of such men as John C. Fremont, the first Republican Party presidential candidate; and General Winfield Scott, whose loss helped guarantee the Union victory in the Civil War.
Almost President reveals that losers often show more foresight than winners, that being ahead of their time is one cause of their defeat, and that losing, like the demolition of a house, can be an opportunity for reconstruction of a political party and the nation. Losing presidential campaigns have created new political alignments and broken down barriers to participation for a wide variety of groups, from Catholics to women. And losing presidential candidates, by conceding victory graciously—an uncommon occurrence in many other nations—ensure that our American democracy works.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Lyons Press; a edition (December 6, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0762763787
  • ISBN-13: 978-0762763788
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.3 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (46 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #247,938 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

If there is a lesson to be learned from my experience, it is that it is never too late to start writing books. I began my first book, "Almost President: The Men Who Lost the Race But Changed the Nation," when I was fifty-one, and it was published by Lyons Press the month before my fifty-fifth birthday.

"Almost President" has done well (thank you, Readers!), and so Lyons Press is publishing my second book, "Kennedy and Reagan: Why Their Legacies Endure," on November 5, 2013.

While writing books is new to me, writing is not. I was a long-time journalist, including as a bureau chief for United Press International in Cheyenne, Wyoming, during the 1980s. At that time, Wyoming had one of the earliest caucuses of the presidential election season, so many, many presidential candidates came by. While a few of those I interviewed -- George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton -- became president, most did not. Perhaps that explains my initial interest in losing presidential candidates.

Perhaps it was also this constant exposure to politicians -- a contagion may have been involved -- that led me to leave journalism and try politics. I have been a senior policy or communications advisor to Wyoming U.S. Senator Malcolm Wallop, Wyoming Governor Mike Sullivan, California Governor Gray Davis, and Portland, Oregon, Mayor Vera Katz.

Eventually, I decided to take the plunge myself and ran for Congress in 1998 -- in Wyoming, as a Democrat, in one of the reddest of all states, and in a year when the Democratic president was impeached for lying in a civil deposition about having an affair with an intern.

While the result may seem foreordained, it still hurt. Running for elective office is one of the most personal things you can do. It is your very person whom voters weigh. After its over, if you've lost, you wonder what it was all about. Almost President, then, began as my personal journey to discovery of what role losers play in a democracy, and attitudes about losing generally in a culture that values winning above everything.

I suppose after writing about losing candidates, it made some sense to turn my attention to two of the greatest winners in American political history: John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan. I learned these men had many similarities in both their life histories and policies.

I think you will find much in "Kennedy and Reagan: Why Their Legacies Endure" that will surprise you -- and hopefully comfort you. For if Kennedy, the icon of liberals, and Reagan, the icon of conservatives, were not so far apart, perhaps our nation is not quite as politically polarized as we currently believe.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

60 of 61 people found the following review helpful By Eric Mayforth on December 11, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Each Election Night, the concession speech delivered by the losing presidential nominee is viewed by just about all of us as simply a formality. Even though it seems unthinkable that a losing nominee would not ultimately concede the election, author Scott Farris asserts that these concessions are truly what make democracy work.

In "Almost President," Farris recalls the careers and contributions to American history that defeated nominees have made. These highly distinguished Americans include Henry Clay, Stephen Douglas, Tom Dewey, Barry Goldwater, and others. The brief biological sketches show that many of these figures were on the national stage at some of the most critical times in American history, and many others did much to change their parties, which ultimately changed the country. Farris notes that losing nominees were not always quickly forgotten, but decades ago often assumed the role of spokesmen or titular heads of their parties.

As the author notes, this is a country that disdains second-place finishers and runners-up (think of how many Buffalo Bills jokes there were in the early-to-mid Nineties). Men such as Walter Mondale, Michael Dukakis, and Bob Dole became punchlines or worse in many quarters following their losses, but it really is no small thing to have gotten the nomination of one of the world's two most important political parties--scores of other politicians have run for president and not gotten their party's nomination.

The author is a staunch liberal, so if you are a conservative there are places in the book where you will definitely disagree with the author's conclusions, but "Almost President" is a fascinating, worthwhile retrospective on those who, even though they did not capture the ultimate prize, still greatly contributed to the American story.
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35 of 36 people found the following review helpful By Andrew Collins on December 20, 2011
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
In American history, mountains of books have been written about the Presidency and the men who have held that office, while those that seek it, attain the nomination of a major political party, only to lose in the end, have mostly become forgotten. These days who can tell you anything about people such as Horace Greeley or Winfield Scott Hancock? Or even poor Alton Parker who has not been the subject of a single book in the more than 100 years since he lost to Theodore Roosevelt in 1904.

But as Almost President proves, even those that lose can still leave a large impact on American political history. The bulk of the book consists of short biographies of nine men to have been major candidates for President, lost, but still left their mark on political history. Those nine men are: Henry Clay, Stephen Douglas, William Jennings Bryan, Al Smith, Thomas Dewey, Adlai Stevenson, Barry Goldwater, George McGovern, and Ross Perot. Also included in the final chapter is a look at the three most recent losers: Al Gore, John Kerry, and John McCain.

All in all a pretty interesting look at those figures usually forgotten. The author does have a slight liberal bias (but it is not bad) and sometimes can be rather long-winded on certain things, but those things do not really detract from the overall quality of the book. I would recommend this to those interested in American political history.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By A. L. Jones on May 21, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Watched Farris talk about this on C-Span's BOOK-TV for an hour and his book is as engaging and stimulating. Irving Stone tackled this topic many decades ago looking at the losing candidate in each Presidential race in "They Also Ran". What Farris has done is look at the candidates who lost and in dealing with that loss, substantially changed American politics for decades or centuries plus. Whether it's Henry Clay creating the two party system, William Jennings Bryan turning the Democratic party from hidebound conservatives to a very progressive agenda or Barry Goldwater's steering the rise of the Republican Conservative movement, Farris has focused on the truly significant instead of the trivialities that fill so much political reporting. It's inspiring stuff showing men who reached for but never gained the Presidency (ones who lost but eventually won the office aren't included in Farris's book) but went on to do major things for their country rather than fled the battlefield never to be seen or heard from again. It would be a great supplementary reading for any high school or college American history or political science course, but it's so enjoyable to read it doesn't take being assigned to zip through it (so many surprises that "what happened next?" is quite propelling.)

Deeply considered, long researched, and written by someone who has covered political races, run races and advised Governors and Congressmen, and even run for Congress himself, Farris brings a particularly rich and varied background to the analysis that really makes this a special book.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on March 16, 2012
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I always knew that any candidate for President must be an accomplished politician. However, in our society we tend to think of the candidate that didn't win as a loser. This book shows how influential these " losing candidates " were in how our country was shaped and governed. I recommend this book to all people that like to learn and be informed.
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