Presidential Rivals Hug It Out Through the Years—PICTURES

Sept. 6, 2012, 12:50 p.m.

A hug, a hand­shake, a hand pound—all are the hall­marks of the con­sum­mate polit­ic­al fig­ure. Former Pres­id­ent Clin­ton is known for his “two-hand” hand­shake. Michelle Obama is a well-known hug­ger. A photo of Pres­id­ent Barack Obama giv­ing a hand pound to a White House jan­it­or has cir­cu­lated widely.

But pres­id­en­tial can­did­ates some­times have the hard­est time reach­ing out to em­brace or clasp hands with their own kind.

After Clin­ton fin­ished his bul­let-poin­ted de­fense of Obama’s work as pres­id­ent on Wed­nes­day night at the Demo­crat­ic Na­tion­al Con­ven­tion, the in­cum­bent came out, grin­ning, to join the former com­mand­er in chief. Clin­ton re­spon­ded with a deep bow and a full-bod­ied, eyes closed, hug. Had the two not spent much of Obama’s pres­id­ency in frosty si­lence, the ges­ture would not have been so sur­pris­ing.

But it’s far from the first time two former rivals have come to­geth­er, wheth­er for show or for real, at a con­ven­tion. The rival hand­shake and hug at the con­ven­tion has been a time-honored tra­di­tion since the second half of the 20th cen­tury.

When Obama de­feated Hil­lary Rod­ham Clin­ton—Bill Clin­ton’s wife and the cur­rent sec­ret­ary of State—in the 2008 Demo­crat­ic primar­ies, ac­ri­mony aboun­ded between Obama and the Clin­tons. Both Bill and Hil­lary re­boun­ded to cam­paign vig­or­ously for Obama. But after Elec­tion Day, Obama sent sig­nals to Bill Clin­ton that he didn’t want any­one back­seat driv­ing. Like­wise, Hil­lary Clin­ton turned down Obama’s ini­tial of­fer to be­come sec­ret­ary of State, only ac­cept­ing un­der Obama’s full-court pres­sure.

While Obama and Hil­lary Clin­ton have de­veloped a strong re­la­tion­ship dur­ing his pres­id­ency, Bill re­mained on the side­lines for most of it. His in­ab­il­ity to have Obama’s ear even spurred Clin­ton to write a book. But last sum­mer, over a round of golf, Clin­ton came back in­to the fold. 

But rival re­con­cili­ations have not al­ways been so cal­cu­lated and smooth. In 2004, Demo­crat­ic pres­id­en­tial nom­in­ee John Kerry just didn’t trust his main primary rival, John Ed­wards. But polls showed that mak­ing the North Car­olini­an his vice pres­id­ent would help Kerry’s chances for the White House. So the sen­at­or from Mas­sachu­setts met with Ed­wards once, and then twice, after the first meet­ing made Kerry “queasy.” He was put off by Ed­wards’s in­sin­cere sin­cer­ity. Ed­wards told Kerry a story he claimed to have nev­er told any­one. After his son’s death, Ed­wards said, he had climbed onto the slab at the fu­ner­al home, wrapped his arms around his son’s dead body, and prom­ised to make the world a bet­ter place. Quickly, Kerry real­ized that Ed­wards had run the same bit by him a year or two earli­er, al­most ver­batim.

Still, the two were quite chummy throughout the Demo­crat­ic con­ven­tion. The fre­quently hugged it out, em­braced each oth­er’s wives, and even put it all to­geth­er for a gi­ant group hug.

But two months after the duo went down in the elec­tion, Ed­wards stopped re­turn­ing Kerry’s phone calls and the two haven’t talked since.

1980 was a year full of rival re­con­cili­ation. On the Demo­crat­ic side, the pub­lic saw a forced hand­shake between Pres­id­ent Carter and in­sur­gent pres­id­en­tial can­did­ate Ed­ward Kennedy, then a sen­at­or from Mas­sachu­setts. Kennedy went to the con­ven­tion with a slim hope of se­cur­ing the nom­in­a­tion. In his con­ces­sion speech, Kennedy nom­in­ally sup­por­ted Carter, but mostly gave a fiery call to an­chor a drift­ing Demo­crat­ic Party in lib­er­al ideals. Al­though the can­did­ates shook hands on the con­ven­tion stage, they re­mained dis­tant af­ter­ward.

“I take the un­usu­al step of car­ry­ing the cause and the com­mit­ment of my cam­paign per­son­ally to our na­tion­al con­ven­tion,” Kennedy said in what is seen as his most fam­ous speech. “And I speak out of a deep trust in our ca­pa­city to pro­ceed with bold­ness and a com­mon vis­ion that will feel and heal the suf­fer­ing of our time and the di­vi­sions of our party.” 

The 1980 Re­pub­lic­an Na­tion­al Con­ven­tion was the cul­min­a­tion of four rivalry-filled years. Even­tu­al nom­in­ee Ron­ald Re­agan was in­tent on pick­ing former Pres­id­ent Ford as his run­ning mate, and he re­fused to con­sider George H.W. Bush, his main primary com­pet­it­or. Des­pite pres­sure from his cam­paign staff, Re­agan held onto his de­sire for Ford un­til the el­ev­enth hour. Only the night be­fore the vice pres­id­en­tial nom­in­a­tion did Re­agan re­lent, call­ing Bush at 11:38 p.m. Two days later, the three ap­peared to­geth­er on stage in a three-way smil­ing em­brace with Ford in the middle, but­tressed by the run­ning mates.

But Re­agan and Ford had ac­tu­ally been at odds since Re­agan al­most up­set Ford dur­ing the 1976 primar­ies. The night of Ford’s ac­cept­ance speech at the ‘76 Re­pub­lic­an Na­tion­al Con­ven­tion, he stunned the en­tire hall—not to men­tion his staff—by call­ing Re­agan to the stage mid-speech. A cam­era caught Re­agan’s wife, Nancy, im­plor­ing her hus­band to stay seated. “No, no no,” she said. Re­agan des­cen­ded to the stage and shook Ford’s hand for the crowd, but pro­ceeded to be a lackluster cam­paign­er for Ford.

Twelve years earli­er, Lyn­don John­son nev­er com­pletely got over los­ing the Demo­crat­ic pres­id­en­tial bid to John Kennedy. The two made a show of pos­ing for the me­dia at their hotel shak­ing hands the morn­ing Kennedy an­nounced he would nom­in­ate John­son for vice pres­id­ent. But the gregari­ous Tex­an was forced in­to a di­min­ut­ive vice pres­id­en­tial role due to his on­go­ing dis­tant re­la­tion­ship with the Kennedys, par­tic­u­larly Robert Kennedy, John’s cam­paign man­ager and later at­tor­ney gen­er­al.

As John­son bio­graph­er Robert Caro put it, when John­son and Robert first met dur­ing the primar­ies, “it was like two strange dogs walk­ing in­to a room and there was a low growl and the hair rises on their neck.”