Eleven nationally known politicians were placed in nomination that year. Convention organizers sent telegrams to the nominees, but some cabled back that they didn’t want the job. A spokesman for ousted President Herbert Hoover telegrammed politely that Hoover did not wish to run. Former New Hampshire Governor John G. Winant was more pointed. “I’m trying very hard to keep entirely out of partisan politics—hope you have lots of fun.” The convention organizers ignored their desires, and the names of Hoover and Winant went to the floor.
Two particularly divisive issues of the day were proposed for the platform. One plank called for the return of prohibition. It was hooted down by voice vote. The plank to endorse the distribution of birth control information—then barred by law—also failed. But supporters pressed for another vote the second day. This time the measure passed.
Choosing a nominee proved more difficult. After six votes, the convention was deadlocked between four candidates. Then someone coined a slogan for the former New Hampshire governor that cleverly reflected the stalemate. The slogan read, “Eventually: Winant Now.” The phrase caught on, and the man who had declined the nomination got it anyway—on the seventh ballot—helped along by a frenzy of behind-the-scenes vote trading.
Informed of his victory, Winant graciously accepted Oberlin’s nomination, but added that he still didn’t want to be the Republican’s real nominee. Alf Landon, the actual Republican standard bearer in the real fall election, finished third at Oberlin.
Later that year, the College took a straw vote for the actual candidates—Landon and incumbent Franklin D. Roosevelt. Students and faculty alike went for Landon. In the general election, however, the wildly popular FDR buried Landon, who garnered just eight electoral votes.
Oberlin’s faulty political radar earned a gentle tweak from the yearbook editors, who noted the students had adopted the slogan: “As Oberlin Goes, So Goes the Nation.”
“First, we nominate the wrong man, one who does not even care to run,” the editors observed. “And in the straw vote, we pick a man who got the worst licking of any presidential candidate. Oberlin was Republican in a year when the country went more Democratic than ever before.”
1860 Oberlin holds the first mock political convention ever held on an American campus. And the nominee was…well, no one seems to know. In hindsight, some have speculated that Abraham Lincoln got the nod. But Lincoln, who won two elections and ended slavery, wasn’t well regarded at Oberlin in 1860; Oberlin’s fervent abolitionists viewed him as too soft on the slavery issue.
1912 Faculty blocked the mock convention when they couldn’t agree with students over the ground rules. Student protesters responded by holding a mock burial for the convention and faculty.
1916 Women students, who had been blocked from mock conventions from the beginning, held their own convention. They promoted women’s suffrage and new laws to protect women and children in the workforce. Four years later, women took part in the official mock convention.
1924 The convention platform took the then radical step of recommending diplomatic recognition of the Soviet Union.
1932 The College broke with tradition and held its first Democratic mock convention. But the students bypassed Franklin Roosevelt, the real-world nominee, in favor of Owen Young, chief of General Electric.
1940 The convention was marked by a fourth ballot effort to nominate comedian W.C. Fields. It was unsuccessful. For the first time, a live elephant led the convention parade, ridden by Cleveland mayor Harold Burton, convention chair.
1944 Students nominated Republican Wendell Wilkie, yet picked socialist Maynard C. Kreuger as his running mate. The platform called for the end of segregation in the Armed Services.
1952 Students borrowed 26 tractors to pull floats through
the convention parade route. U.S. Senator Wayne Morse (R-Oregon) rode the elephant leading the convention parade, but only after popping a seasick pill.
1960 The third Democratic mock convention picked a winner, John F. Kennedy. The town of Oberlin, which remained a Republican bastion, gave Kennedy just 37 percent of the vote in November.
1968 Hundreds of students joined the real world presidential primary campaigns of Democrats Eugene McCarthy and Robert Kennedy.
1971 The 26th amendment gave 18-year-olds the right to vote, sealing the end of mock conventions at Oberlin for more than three decades.
2004 Students hold the first mock convention since 1968. Governor Howard Dean (D-Vermont) got the nomination.
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