The Seven Closest Presidential Elections in U.S. History

7. 1884: 219–182

James A. Garfield’s presidency lasted just 200 days. He was assassinated in September of 1881, and Chester A. Arthur became President. He served out the remainder of Garfield's term and, because of poor health, decided against running for re-election.

In his stead, the Republican Party nominated James G. Blaine, who had a long list of political credentials, including representing Maine in the House and Senate and serving as Secretary of State under Garfield. (Blaine, like most of the rest of the Cabinet, resigned after Garfield was shot.)

New York Gov. Grover Cleveland was the Democratic nominee. In the election campaign, both parties tried to paint the other party's candidate as corrupt or of questionable character.

The election was one of the closest electoral contests in history, with Cleveland just managing to win his home state of New York and, with its 36 electoral votes, the election 219-182.

6. 2004: 286–251

The events of September 11 and the resulting "War on Terror," coupled with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, were very much the dominant themes of the 2004 re-election campaign of President George W. Bush. His Democratic opponent was Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts.

Campaign issues included national security, the economy, and America's role in the world. Kerry benefited from the continued absence of any evidence of "weapons of mass destruction" in Iraq and many people's weariness of fighting wars overseas. Bush benefited from continued confidence in the American military operations in Afghanistan, with Osama bin Laden, the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, still at large.

The election was quite close, with Bush winning 286-251. (One elector from Minnesota voted for another candidate entirely.)

5. 1916: 277–254

The election of 1916 took place in the middle of World War I. Promising continued neutrality, Woodrow Wilson ran for re-election on the slogan of "He Kept Us Out of War." His opponent was Supreme Court Justice Charles Evan Hughes, who ran a very strong anti-war campaign. There was the strong suspicion among many in the country that war could not be avoided, especially since the sinking of the Lusitania a year before the election.

The election proved to be an extremely close electoral contest. Wilson, despite outdistancing Hughes by nearly 6 million votes, nonetheless very nearly lost the electoral count. His 30 states totaled 277 votes in the Electoral College, just more than the majority needed to win. Hughes' 18 states totaled 254.

Wilson thus became the first Democratic President since Andrew Jackson to win re-election. A year later, American forces officially entered World War I. The "doughboys" went to the fronts in France, lending much-needed muscle to the efforts to fight back the armies of Germany, Austria-Hungary, and the Ottoman Empire.

Numbers 4–2

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David White