What happens if a nominee dies before taking office?

A viewer asked this question on 8/4/2000:

Heaven for bid that this should happen...

However, once a presidential nominee has accepted the nomination from his party (either Democratic or Republican or other) and prior to the election, he/she becomes ill, incapacitated, or die...who then succeeds him/her as the in the election process??? Where can I find a reference to this answer???

Thank you kindly for assisting me in understanding the political process

JesseGordon gave this response on 8/4/2000:

First of all, the Constitution is silent on this issue -- for that matter, it's silent on anything to do with political parties at all. So there's no Constitutional guidance at all.

Second, this HAS happened, or pretty close, in 1968, when Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated. He was killed in June after winning the California (and numerous other) primaries; the convention was in August. RFK would presumably have been the nominee had he not been killed.

I'm not too sure what his delegates at the convention did, but the Democrats picked Hubert Humphrey as the candidate. It was a turbulent convention, for all sorts of reasons, but RFK's death was part of the reason.

To answer the question, I assume it's entirely up to the party who has lost a candidate to decide what to do. It would seem polite to have the candidate who came in second in the primaries (McCain or Bradley) take over, but more likely there would be a special convention to choose a new candidate.

To be further polite, I would hope that the elections got postponed from November, to allow a fair race. The Constitution doesn't mandate November elections, so I guess that would be determined by Congress. But the surviving (opposing) candidate would prefer a quick election that he was pretty assured of winning, so who knows what Congress would do.

The other situation where this almost happened was with Pres. William Henry Harrison in 1841. He got ill immediately upon taking office (some say it was at his inauguration itself) and died 3 months later. His V.P., John Tyler, took over. Harrison was the first president to die in office.

Perhaps the best story in this morbid catalogue is that of Tancredo Neves, president-elect of Brazil in 1985. He got ill and died after getting elected and before taking office, His dying words were reportedly "I did not deserve this."

Anonymous asked this question on 3/31/2000:

What are all the lines of succession to the Presidency?

budgetanalyst gave this response on 3/31/2000:

From the President the power goes to the Vice President as President. If there is time to appoint and confirm a new Vice President, the power would be transferred to the new Vice President, and so forth. So in most cases the succession would go from President to Vice President and over and over again. (The 25th Amendment provides that "In case of the removal of the President from office or of his death or resignation, the Vice President shall become President," and that "Whenever there is a vacancy in the office of the Vice President, the President shall nominate a Vice President who shall take office upon confirmation by a majority vote of both Houses of Congress.")

If for some reason there is no President or Vice President, the Speaker of the House will become President (the Speaker then ceases to be a Representative). If for some reason the Speaker cannot serve, then the President pro tempore of the Senate will.

If the President pro tempore cannot serve, then the following succession will apply: Secretary of State, Secretary of the Treasury, Secretary of Defense, Attorney General, Secretary of the Interior, Secretary of Agriculture, Secretary of Commerce, Secretary of Labor, Secretary of Health and Human Services, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Secretary of Transportation, Secretary of Energy, Secretary of Education, Secretary of Veterans Affairs.

A viewer asked this question on 8/28/2000:

Is there a federal law... or a Dem/Rep party policy... that would cover the eventuality of a presidential candidate being assassinated the weekend before the general election? Would the vice presidential nominee ascend to the top of the ticket? Would the election be postponed? Is there any plan for a situation like this?

npscott gave this response on 8/28/2000:

There is a plan; it's called the Secret Service and those guys don't play.

The situation doesn't exist for Constitutional purposes.

The current President is president until January 20, 2001.

No matter what happens to candidates for the Presidency, they are citizens until elected and sworn in.

If a Candidate becomes unable to serve for whatever reason--ill health, accident, scandal-- he/she would step down, or be pressured to resign.
The successor would be picked by the Party. Both parties have machinery already in place for such situations.

For instance, when Sen. Tom Eagleton (D-MO) was nominated for Vice President on the Democratic ticket in 1972, it turned out he had been hospitalized for manic-depressive disease, and had had shock treatments.

Eagleton resigned. McGovern then picked Kennedy clan relative Sargent Shriver. The Democratic National Committeemen (two from each state, I believe) met in Washington and ratified his pick on behalf of the party.

Had it been McGovern as the Presidential nominee who resigned, then the party would pick his successor in much the same manner.

It wouldn't be quite cut and dried. Nominating a Presidential Candidate is politics, and despite the mechanism, their choice for the successor Presidential nominee would be wide-open.

They are not locked in by Party rules, or legal statue to replace a Presidential Nominee with the Vice Presidential nominee, though practical necessity might dictate that.

In the unlikely event that all four major candidates became incapacitated just before the election, the Speaker of the 106th Congress would become President on January 20th, to be replaced by the Speaker of the 107th newly elected Congress.

This assumes the parties would not have time to nominate replacement candidates.

This is about the fourth time this question has arisen on AskMe, and I find it disturbing.

A viewer asked this question on 8/28/2000:

You were kind enough to answer my recent question about the possible assassination of a presidential candidate. Let me set your concerns at least partially to rest... I'm a screenwriter and this is all fiction/hypothetical. But the question is a little more specific. Recall I said the assassination took place the weekend before the general election. With only 48 hours or so to go before the vote, how could any of these mechanisms be put into effect? Would the election be postponed... even though it might hurt the surviving (front running) candidate... or give the surviving (trailing) candidate an undeserved break? I think you see where I'm going with this, and I could really use your input. Thanks again.

npscott gave this response on 8/28/2000:

It wasn't your question that disturbed me--it was the fourth time around for the same question that bothers me, only the emphasis in the others was on whether or not the outgoing President would remain in office. (He would not).

Unless you posted the three previous queries on this and the 'politics' section, and were dissatisfied with the responses, the fact that so many people are asking the same question---is disturbing.

As I recall, the candidates of only one party were killed, in your hypothetical.

In practical terms, most voters would elect the remaining candidates. The new candidates would have to be perceived as very satisfactory, and 'tested' by the electorate.

Would 48 hours be enough time for replacement candidates? Likely not. (You need to call both the DNC and RNC and ask what specific mechanism they have to replace both candidates should that occur. Actually your local county Republican and/or Democratic Chairman could get the specific answer for you.)

I believe the executive committee of the party-- composed of the GOP (or DEM) state committeemen and state committeewoman--would make the selection. There wouldn't be time to assemble such a large group with any semblance of order. Though I might underestimate human potential. (Possible twist, if the assassinations thought this couldn't happen).

The election would not be postponed, in any event.

Most likely the living candidates would be elected.

But, the dead candidates could still be elected.

The Party Leaders could do a quick telephone conference poll for a replacement. They could then contact each of the Electors pledged to the dead men, and get their public pledge to vote for the replacement.

The electoral college would meet for the real election. (Remember, the popular vote is only that, it who gets the majority of the electoral vote, who wins.)

Some electors are bound by law to vote for who they say they'll vote for.

Other electors are not legally bound. They are morally bound to vote for the candidate they represent on the ballot. It has happened that Electors have voted from someone different that who the voters elected them to vote for?

"I trust I make my self obscure." (Man For All Seasons).

So, even if nothing happened at all to the candidates, it is potentially possible for enough electors to 'defect' and vote for someone who didn't even run.

And, it possible that the electors who pledged to vote for the successor, would stick together and do just that.

But, the replacement would have to be a politician of such stature and public knowledge, that he could receive the votes of those voters who were for the dead candidates, without any hesitation or qualms.

The Electoral College vote takes place in the House of Representatives. It has happened before that the electoral balloting went on, and on, and on, until a President was chosen, in old-fashioned, back-room, wheeling, dealing, trades and deals.

That's how the 'stolen election' came about, the Hayes-Tilden one.

The idea of 'picking off' both candidates of the same party in the same day is a bit far-fetched.

Don't your assassins have any high-tech murder methods?

JVance4 asked this question on 8/18/2000:

Suppose the Presidential winner in Nov meets his untimely death before the Jan inauguration. Who would become President? His VP running mate? Or would Clinton remain until another campaign and election?

stevehaddock gave this response on 8/18/2000:

Yes, the vice-president elect would take the oath of office instead. This has never happened, but Tyler came close - W.H. Harrison caught pneumonia at his inauguration and died a few months later.

If in the event both died, the chain of succession would still be in force, and I believe the president pro tempore of the Senate would become president, effectively putting the selection of a new president in the hands of the Senate.

JesseGordon gave this response on 2/18/2000:

I think we've seen the definitive succession issue in this election: Mel Carnahan, running for Senator of Missouri.
He was killed a month before the election, and well after the ballots had all been printed and distributed.
Hence the state declared that he would still be on the ballot in November.

He was the governor of Missouri when he was killed, so his successor as Governor was of course also ffrom his party (Democrat).
The new Governor waited for an appropriate morning period (a week or so; this is politics) and then announced that Mel Carnahan's widow, the former First Lady of Missouri, Jean Carnahan, would be appointed to the Senate if Mel Carnahan won the election.

Carnahan's opponent, John Ashcroft, certainly didn't like this arrangement at all -- he couldn't campaign against a dead man, because anything he said would sound distasteful.
Republicans in Missouri and around the country pointed out that dead men can't run for office, but the people of Missouri voted for Carnahan anyway.
Hence Jean Carnahan got elected, basically without anyone really knowing very much at all about what she stood for (she said, "I'll carry on Mel's legacy," and not much else).

Jean Carnahan is now in the Senate. John Ashcroft got a pretty good consolation prize, with Bush appointing him as Attorney General.

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