Vice Presidents Who Ran for President and Lost

Being No. 2 doesn't always guarantee you'll eventually become No. 1

Walter Mondale and Geraldine Ferraro waving
Democratic Hopefuls Walter Mondale and Geraldine Ferraro, 1984.

Sonia Moskowitz / Getty Images

One of the surest ways to be elected president of the United States is to first be elected vice president. The ascension of the vice president to the White House has been a natural progression throughout American political history. More than a dozen vice presidents eventually served as presidents, whether through election or the presidential line of succession when a president was unable to complete their term.

But just about as many vice presidents have tried to win the highest office and lost, though some, like Richard Nixon, eventually won. Joe Biden, who was elected president in 2020 and began his tenure in 2021, was vice president under President Barak Obama from 2009 to 2017. He ran for U.S. president in both 1998 and 2008, but it wasn't until he had served as vice president that he won.

These vice presidents lost their bids for the presidency.

Al Gore: 2000

Al Gore
Former vice presidential nominee Al Gore.

Andy Kropa / Getty Images

Democrat Al Gore, who served as vice president under President Bill Clinton from 1993 to 2001, probably thought he had a lock on the White House before Clinton's scandal. Whatever accomplishments Clinton and Gore could claim over the course of eight years were overshadowed by the president's affair with White House staffer Monica Lewinsky, a scandal that brought the president close to an impeachment conviction.

In the 2000 presidential election, Gore won the popular vote and lost in electoral votes to Republican George W. Bush, but the voting was so close that a recount was necessary. The contested race reached the U.S. Supreme Court, which voted in Bush's favor.

After his unsuccessful run, Gore went on to become a major advocate for climate change reform, winning an Academy Award in 2007 for his documentary on the topic, "An Inconvenient Truth." He has also taught at a number of universities as a visiting professor, including the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, Fisk University, and the University of California in Los Angeles.

Walter Mondale: 1984

Walter Mondale and Geraldine Ferraro

Bettmann / Getty Images

Walter Mondale served as vice president under President Jimmy Carter from 1977 to 1981, and he was on the ticket again as the vice-presidential candidate in 1980 when Carter ran for reelection. Carter lost in a landslide to Republican Ronald Reagan, who became president in 1981.

When Reagan ran for reelection in 1984, Mondale was his Democratic opponent. Mondale selected Geraldine Ferraro to be his running mate, making her the first vice-presidential candidate who was a woman on a major party ticket. The Mondale-Ferraro ticket lost to Reagan in a landslide.

After the loss, Mondale returned to private law practice for several years, then to the government to serve as the U.S. ambassador to Japan for the Clinton administration from 1993 to 1996. In 2002, he ran for the U.S. Senate in Minnesota but narrowly lost the election. (He had previously served as the U.S. senator for the state in the 1960s and 1970s.) He declared this campaign his last. Mondale died in April 2021 at the age of 93.

Hubert Humphrey: 1968

Hubert Humphrey
Hubert Humphrey, who served as vice president under Lyndon B. Johnson, is pictured here at the 1976 Democratic National Convention in New York.

 George Rose / Getty Images

Democratic Vice President Hubert Humphrey served under President Lyndon B. Johnson from 1965 through 1968. In the 1968 election, Humphrey ran for president and won the Democratic party's presidential nomination. Republican Richard Nixon, who had served as vice president under President Dwight D. Eisenhower, narrowly defeated Humphrey.

After his unsuccessful run, Humphrey served as U.S. senator representing Minnesota from 1971 until he died of bladder cancer in 1978 at the age of 66. During his final years, Humphrey mentored future vice president and unsuccessful presidential candidate Walter Mondale.

Richard Nixon: 1960

Richard Nixon
Richard Nixon after receiving the 1968 presidential nomination at the Republican National Convention in Miami.

Washington Bureau / Getty Images

Nixon served as vice president during the Eisenhower administration from 1953 to 1961. At that time an avowed anti-Communist, Nixon became involved in the famous "kitchen debate" with then-Soviet Premier Nikita Kruschev, who was visiting the United States.

Nixon ran for the White House unsuccessfully in 1960 as Eisenhower was finishing his time in office. He faced Democrat John F. Kennedy and lost, having participated in the first televised debate between presidential candidates.

After the loss, Nixon ran unsuccessfully for governor of California, and many observers assumed his political career was over. However, he won the presidency in 1968, defeating another former vice president on this list: Hubert Humphrey. Nixon would go on to be elected for a second term, but he resigned in disgrace in 1974 over the Watergate scandal.

John Breckinridge: 1860

Image of John. C. Breckinridge

Mathew Brady / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

John C. Breckinridge served as vice president under James Buchanan from 1857 to 1861. He was nominated by the Southern Democrats to run for president in 1860 and he faced Republican Abraham Lincoln and two other candidates. He lost to Lincoln.

After his loss, Breckinridge served as a U.S. senator representing the state of Kentucky from March through December 1861. When the southern states seceded from the Union, sparking the Civil War, Breckinridge joined the army of the Confederacy as a brigadier general, fighting for the South for the duration of the conflict. He was proclaimed a traitor and dismissed from the Senate at the end of 1861.

After the war, Breckinridge fled to Britain and lived there for several years, returning to the U.S. in 1869 after President Johnson granted amnesty to former Confederates. He died in Lexington, Kentucky, in 1875.

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Murse, Tom. "Vice Presidents Who Ran for President and Lost." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Murse, Tom. (2023, April 5). Vice Presidents Who Ran for President and Lost. Retrieved from Murse, Tom. "Vice Presidents Who Ran for President and Lost." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 4, 2023).